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Bedford County supervisors revisit idea of solar farms

Bedford County supervisors revisit idea of solar farms

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The Bedford County Board of Supervisors recently discussed the possibility of bringing a utility-scale solar farm to Bedford County for the first time in more than a year.

Rob Propes, a project development manager for Urban Grid, a developer of utility-scale solar power plants in the Mid-Atlantic United States, presented new information about bringing solar energy projects to localities and pitched a conceptual plan for a Huddleston-based solar farm during a work session Monday.

Revenue share, an option brought by recent legislation meant to encourage renewable energy, allows a locality to assess up to $1,400 per megawatt of capacity from a solar farm, Propes said, opening a new revenue stream for the county.

Revenue share is not subject to a depreciation schedule as it was under previous tax structures. Urban Grid proposes a 75-megawatt facility with a 35-year lifespan, from which the county could glean up to $3.67 million from revenue share, about $105,000 per year, according to the developer’s estimates.

Bedford County has been contacted by numerous solar developers interested in establishing a solar farm in the county over the years, County Administrator Robert Hiss said.

In August last year, Bedford County supervisors discussed the possibility of bringing solar energy to the county. At that time, revenue share was not an option, and solar farms would offer little or no new revenue for the county. Supervisors and county staff did not feel pursuing solar development would be advantageous to the local economy at that time, and the idea was tabled.

Urban Grid currently is working on 11 solar projects throughout Virginia, according to Propes, with one site in operation and others in early development stages or under construction.

The solar development company controls 843 agricultural-zoned acres in Huddleston, leasing from two land owners. After completing surveys to identify “biological constraints” and “sensitive areas,” the company found about 421 acres of the land would be usable for a solar farm. The proposed project is called “Cardinal Solar” and would generate 75 to 100 megawatts of energy.

Establishing the proposed solar farm could have benefits for Bedford County, Propes said, including creation of local construction jobs, revenue increases and positive environmental impacts.

No new roads, sewer systems or other public infrastructure would be required with this project, Propes said. The project also could increase assessed real estate taxes on the solar farm property, up to 12 times greater than the property’s existing assessed value. Positive “green” publicity for the county and greenhouse gas reductions could accompany a solar energy initiative.

After its 35 years of operation, the solar farm would be decommissioned and the land returned back to agricultural use.

If supervisors decide to pursue installation of a solar farm and plans move forward with Urban Grid, construction could begin late in 2021 and be completed by the middle of 2022, Propes said.

Urban Grid has not applied for any permits with the county or submitted a formal proposal. Bedford County has not put forth a request for proposals from solar developers. Supervisors will discuss at future meetings whether they want county staff to further research solar energy and pursue installation of a solar farm in Bedford County, in light of this new information and legislation offering economic benefits.

Campbell and Appomattox counties already have established some solar energy farms, and one solar farm operates in the town of Bedford.

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