A 3 megawatt solar farm planned for nearly 130 acres off Wilroy Road near the planned overpass of US Route 58 through the regional landfill has caused an even split in the planning committee.
The commission could not agree on two 4-4 votes. This means that the permit application is forwarded to the city council without a recommendation.
Commissioners Oliver Creekmore, Kittrell Eberwine, Johnnie Edwards and Gerald Goodman voted in favor of refusing approval, while Commissioners Anita Hicks, John Rector, new chairman Arthur Singleton and Mills Staylor voted against the refusal.
The city council is expected to take up the proposed solar park at its August 18th session.
Solenis LLC and the Community Power Group have teamed up to develop the solar array on Wilroy Road and Long Point Lane, and nearly 18 acres of the property is part of the conditional use permit application.
The uniaxial tracking photovoltaic solar modules will be 2.40 m high and surrounded by a 2 m high game fence, the modules being designed to absorb sunlight and treated with anti-reflective coatings. The solar panel arrays would be mounted on racks that would be supported by the ground, and the single-axis tracking and motoring equipment would help keep track of the sun throughout the day. There would also be a vegetative buffer 15 feet long.
The site will have a single entrance on Wilroy Road.
The Transportation Engineering division of the Public Works Department determined that for trucks delivering materials to the construction site during construction, the most appropriate transportation route would be bypass south on Wilroy Road to US Route 58.
Amberli Young, a senior project manager for the Community Power Group, announced to the commission during a public hearing at its July 20 meeting that the project has been selected for a power purchase agreement with Dominion Energy in compliance with the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
A glare study found that the project would not cause glare, and Young responded to a question from Commissioner Anita Hicks that there would also be no glare affecting the flyover on Nansemond Parkway, not far from the proposed project . She said there would be additional screenings in this area as well.
Young also said the smaller string inverters that will be used will likely be placed near the center of the facility to minimize noise outside the perimeter. That sound, she said, would only be during the day as the solar park would go into standby mode at night.
The closest residential neighborhood to someone's back door to a solar panel would be about 150 feet.
Commissioner Mills Staylor said he was concerned about the visibility of the site from the street, while Kittrell Eberwine recalled an earlier comment by Staylor that the location of a solar project was vital.
“Wilroy Road is a busy road that runs from north Suffolk to downtown,” said Eberwine. “And I just find it difficult to support these things that are right on the main road that comes into our city. Again, location, location. “
Commissioner John Rector agreed with the comment that the location of solar farms was a critical issue and said he was looking at how close the location would be to residents of the area. However, given the planned solar park's proximity to a nearby chemical plant, he said, “I put the visualization part aside because it's already in an industrialized area, so I didn't think it was an impractical use of that small piece of land.”
Julian Bray, engineering and maintenance manager at Solenis, believes the location works well for the company and would be a helpful asset for local residents.
“This is an ideal opportunity not only for Solenis,” said Bray, “but (also) for the community to benefit from an investment in a renewable energy facility that will benefit the entire community.”