35-megawatt solar farm proposed for farmland in Norge

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SunPower solar farm
SunPower Corp., a California-based solar energy company, plans to request a special use permit from James City County for a solar farm up to 35 megawatts in Norge. (Courtesy SunPower)

The Historic Triangle’s first large-scale solar farm may be in the works.

SunPower Corp., a California-based solar energy company, plans to request a special use permit from James City County for a solar farm up to 35 megawatts in Norge, according to a letter sent by the developer to homeowners around the site.

The solar facility is proposed to be built on a 223-acre site, located about a half mile southeast of Richmond Road in James City County, the letter says.

The property for the proposed project borders the Norvalia subdivision, Norge Elementary school, Kristiansand subdivision, a farm and the Oakland subdivision.

The property is currently used for agriculture and forestry, the letter says. According James City County property records, the parcel is privately owned by Whisper Ridge, LLC. Filings with the State Corporation Commission state that Whisper Ridge, LLC is registered to Attorney Bennett Stein of Newport News. Whisper Ridge, LTD is registered to H.R. Ashe of Yorktown. Calls to both offices were not immediately returned Wednesday.

If approved, SunPower, which has built solar plants that produce 2.6 gigawatts throughout the world, would lease the land from the owner for up to 35 years. The facility’s lifespan is estimated to be at least 30 years, SunPower project manager Drew Gibbons said.

The solar facility will contain solar panels, interconnection facilities and operations and maintenance buildings. There will also be an onsite project substation connecting to a nearby substation on Chickahominy Road.

SunPower prefers to keep the total project cost confidential, SunPower spokeswoman Ingrid Ekstrom said.

The letter states SunPower plans to submit the special use permit application by the end of 2016, which will then go before James City County staff for review comment, and recommendation. After being approved by staff, the application will need to be approved by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

If approved, solar farm construction would start in mid-2017 and take about nine months to build, Gibbons said. The construction phase would create about 100 jobs for local residents.

Although Dominion Power has been purchasing solar farms across Virginia and North Carolina, Dominion spokeswoman Bonita Harris said Dominion is “not currently involved in any [solar] projects in James City County.”

SunPower is in active discussions with potential buyers of the power generated by the Norge solar farm, Gibbons said, adding that “power off-takers” typically include regional utilities or commercial and industrial entities.

Community connections

The developers hosted a community meeting on Nov. 17 at Norge Elementary School to provide more information on the solar farm and allow residents to ask questions.

Gibbons said the concerns raised most frequently by residents during the meeting were about construction traffic and project views from nearby properties.

The developer plans to keep a 50-foot vegetative buffer around the perimeter of the solar farm to minimize the view of the farm and soften construction sounds. When the project is complete, the noise from the site will be “about equivalent to the sound emitted from a refrigerator,” Gibbons said.

When the solar power farm reaches the end of its lifespan, the equipment can be removed from the site with minimal impact, returning the land to its current condition, Gibbons said.

Solar power across the state

Dominion has jumped on the renewable energy bandwagon, getting involved with several solar farms throughout Virginia, according to the Dominion website.

“Solar is part of the diverse mix of generation that Dominion feels is important to maintain reliable and cost-effective energy for our 2.5 million customers,” Harris said. “This power generation mix includes solar, high-efficiency natural gas and nuclear generation located throughout Virginia.”

Dominion solar facilities to be finished this year include 17-megawatt Scott Solar in Powhatan County, 20-megawatt Whitehouse Solar in Louisa County and 19-megawatt Woodland Solar in Isle of Wight County.

Dominion estimates the three projects alone will provide $74 million in economic benefits to the three counties.

Dominion is also involved with solar farms in Fauquier County, Virginia Beach and Accomack County.

Beyond Dominion, Richmond-based Virginia Solar LLC has been approved to build a solar farm in New Kent, Sussex, Buckingham and Powhatan counties, according to their website. All Virginia Solar projects are either already online, or projected to be online by Dec. 2017.

Beyond solar power, Dominion is involved with the proposed Surry-Skiffes Creek project, which would cross a 500 kilovolt line across the James River and could provide power to 600,000 Peninsula residents, Harris said. The public hearing on the project has been delayed until June 27, 2017, after the Army Corps of Engineers issues a permit for the project, according to a resolution approved during the Nov. 22 James City County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Although Dominion claims no connection to the proposed Norge solar farm at this time, Harris said the solar farm could not provide enough power to take the place of the Skiffes Creek project.

The Norge solar farm could, however, power up to 7,000 homes in the area, Gibbons said.

For any questions about the Norge solar farm, contact Chris Reilly, an associate at SunPower Corp. at Chris.Reilly@sunpower.com.

Fearing can be reached at 207-975-5459.