RUSTBURG — Members of the Campbell County Planning Commission decided at a Monday meeting to move forward with a special use permit for the Dragonfly Solar facility in Lynch Station.
The Commission’s 5-2 vote to pass deliberations on to the Campbell County Board of Supervisors came at the end of a nearly 2 1/2 hour meeting, during which commissioners questioned representatives for Dragonfly’s parent company, Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy on the financial impact and feasibility of the project.
With all present at the meeting, Commissioners Richard Metz and Gary Wisecarver opposed the special use permit, while Chairman William Kirk and Commissioners Dean Monroe, Patrick Tweedy, Dean Cumbo, James Fowler and James Borland voted in favor.
A vote from the Board of Supervisors last month allowed Dragonfly to submit an application for a special use permit of rural lands for its facility, provided the company would submit analysis on both the effects the facility would have on traffic and how Apex plans to decommission the facility at the end of its 35-year lifespan.
Apex submitted reports on both issues — one from the Virginia Department of Transportation, and another from Westwood Professional Services, a Minnesota-based engineering firm. The first report found the roadways surrounding the facility could handle the increased traffic from construction of the solar facility; the second estimated the costs of closing the facility down.
Metz, the solar facility’s most vocal critic at the meeting, voiced strong concerns about the Westwood report’s projected cost.
“This report needs a serious vetting,” Metz said of Apex’s decommissioning report.
Metz expressed suspicion of the discrepancy between the $30 million in construction and the price tag on decommission, which comes in at just under $2 million, according to the decommissioning plan Apex submitted to the commission. If the decommission cost is more than the amount Apex commits to spending, he said, Campbell County could be left responsible for the remainder of the costs.
In response to Metz’s questioning, Apex Development Manager Blaine Loos responded that disassembling the Dragonfly facility’s equipment and returning the land to its original state would be a cheaper and less complicated process than setting it up.
The decommissioning cost is also reduced by the money made from selling salvaged materials, Loos said.
Metz, as well as Wisecarver, questioned the project’s subsidies, alleging Apex and other clean energy companies are given an unfair advantage.
Loos declined in a Tuesday phone interview to disclose how much profit Apex will be making off of the Dragonfly facility.
“If you were to come here and say ‘All we want is the land,’ and there’d be no kind of subsidies … I’d have a little better feeling about it,” Wisecarver said.
Chairman William Kirk then pressed the question of whether Apex would be interested in the property without the tax credits.
Karlis Povisils, senior vice president of development at Apex, said “No.”
During his presentation to the commission, Loos stressed the low environmental impact of the facility and the extent Apex has been in contact with area residents throughout the planning process, which included monthly mailed updates and face-to-face meetings.
“We’ve incorporated a lot of the suggestions” from the community, Loos said.
A major concern during planning was the visibility of the solar panels from surrounding roadways. In response, Apex increased the setback distance of the solar panels from 50 to 500 feet in areas where they would be easily visible.
“You almost had to trespass on the property” to see them, said Commissioner James Fowler, who had visited the property.
If approved by the Board of Supervisors, Apex estimates the construction of the facility would take between eight and 10 months and generate 200 full-time equivalent jobs, the “vast majority” of which would be locally sourced, Loos said.
According to a report Apex commissioned from Mangum Economics on the facility’s economic impact for Campbell County, those 200 jobs would pay on average $38,000 over the period of construction, and the solar facility would need four employees to run the facility once it is built.
That same report estimated about $50,000 per year in property tax revenue for the county during the 35-year life of the facility.
Once the facility is operational, it will generate enough power for up to 15,000 single-family homes, equal to about two-thirds of the homes in Campbell County, Apex has said.
It is unclear how much of that power will go to Virginia.
“We’re in discussions with several potential purchasers of power,” Loos said, adding those customers would be both in- and out-of-state.
When Kirk asked Loos who the potential buyers were, Loos would not disclose them because Apex is still in negotiations.
Toward the end of the meeting, the Dragonfly project received a largely positive response. Of the 11 residents that came up to testify to the commission, only one was against the facility, voicing concerns about the additional traffic from construction.
When Fowler asked for a show of hands for who approved of the proposed facility, nearly all of the about 30 guests in the Campbell County board room raised their hands.
Despite Metz and Wisecarver’s disapproval, the remaining commissioners approved the specialuse permit, many of them citing environmental impact and community support for the facility.
The board of supervisors will hold a public hearing for the facility Sept. 4.