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James City County is one step closer to harnessing the power of sun with the approval of proposed 20-megawatt solar farm in Norge.
The Planning Commission voted 5-2 in favor of the proposal from SunPower Devco, LLC, despite concerns from a few residents and other county planners.
The proposal is now set to go before the Board of Supervisors for a final determination.
SunPower claims the proposed facility will generate enough electricity to power 4,000 homes annually, according to meeting documents.
The Planning Commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve a special use permit lasting 35 years, which is the length of SunPower’s lease of the property from Whisper Ridge, LLC.
Other recommendations include allowing SunPower access through Oslo Court, a neighborhood which abuts the 224- acre solar farm property on Farmville Lane. Both Oslo and Farmville are lined with private residences, and the use of residential roads was a source of debate in Wednesday’s meeting.
“My real concern is you’re putting [in] a large industry that has no access except our neighborhood,” said Josephine Gardner, a resident of Oslo Court. “Our neighborhood is going to be the one that’s going to feel the impact of this. There is no private road access.”
SunPower’s proposal indicates that between seven and ten trucks will need to access the property daily during construction, in addition to 60-80 construction workers. Once construction is complete SunPower expects no more than four trips per day.
Planners Robin Bledsoe and John Wright III voted nay. Wright said that he would have voted to approve the project were it not for the impact on neighbors. Bledsoe said she was in favor of solar power, but voted against the proposal because of the neighbor’s concerns and because she was unconvinced that the project would benefit the county financially.
“There was no economic impact presented [by SunPower] and I really believe that’s because there is no economic impact,” Bledsoe said. “To me, that’s very important- that somewhere along the way we get something back as a county.”
Drew Gibbons, SunPower’s Lead Developer for the East Region, acknowledged before the planners that the solar farm would generate little tax revenue, would create no more than two full-time jobs once construction was completed, and that the electricity itself could be distributed outside of the county by regional utilities. However, Gibbons pointed out that the power would be clean and renewable, and the facility would be inaudible and blocked from view by trees.
The other five planners voted aye to the proposal.
“This property is going to be developed someday,” planner Jack Haldeman said. “Is it going to be houses or solar panels? I wouldn’t want to live next to a solar farm, I have to admit. I feel badly for the people who are living next to this and are going to have to face it. But the alternative in my view is worse.”