Friday, August 12, 2022

James City County’s first large-scale solar farm to call Norge home

James City County's first large-scale solar farm was approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. (Courtesy SunPower).
James City County’s first large-scale solar farm was approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. (Courtesy SunPower).

A quiet 224-acre farm nestled between neighborhoods in Norge will soon be home to James City County’s first large-scale solar farm.

The James City County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a proposal from SunPower Devco LLC for the construction of a 20-megawatt solar farm on a 224-acre farm site behind the Norvalia subdivision on Richmond Road in Norge.

“On balance, this is a proposal that gives us some good opportunities to allow for the development of alternative sources of energy and to reduce our reliance on forms that are much more destructive to the environment, so I’ll be able to support this proposal,” Supervisor John McGlennon said during the meeting.

The farm will generate enough electricity to power roughly 4,000 homes, making it the first “utility-scale” solar power generation plant in the county.

The facility will be made up of photovoltaic panels on roughly 820 ground-mounted arrays that are 13 feet tall, according to meeting documents.

The power generated by the farm will be sold to Dominion Energy.

According to SunPower Senior Manager of Business Development Peter Toomey, three things need to happen before construction can begin. SunPower will need to receive an Interconnection agreement from power utility Dominion Energy.

SunPower will also need a contract to sell the energy to Dominion and obtain proper permits from Virginia authorities.

Toomey said he is confident all three will happen.

SunPower will lease the land from property owner Whisper Ridge, LLC for 35 years, at which point the plant will be decommissioned.

County staff and officials have been reviewing similar versions of the proposal from SunPower for more than a year. During that time, SunPower has applied for and been granted multiple deferrals from county officials in order to iron out details of the project.

The last deferral for application happened on Oct. 10. Before that meeting, Norvalia residents expressed concerns about high volumes of construction traffic through their neighborhood.  The board voted 4-0 to send the proposal back to the county’s Planning Commission for a review.

In December, the Planning Commission voted five to one in support of the reworked proposal, which made concessions to residents of neighboring properties.

“We did try to address as many of the concerns of the local community as we could,” Toomey said.

SunPower had originally proposed using the streets of the adjacent Norvalia subdivision to access the property. Norvalia residents were concerned the construction trucks entering and leaving the solar farm site would clog up their low-traffic neighborhood and possibly damage properties.

A map of the site for the proposed solar farm, and the access point via Old Church Road. (Courtesy James City County)
A map of the site for the proposed solar farm, and the access point via Old Church Road. (Courtesy James City County)

SunPower addressed those concerns by opening access to the property through Old Church Road, which is expected to impact fewer residences. Traffic will also be reduced by securing offsite parking for the 60 to 80 construction workers that will work on the project.

“It seems the relocation of the entrance point of the construction remedies the majority of that, if not all of it,” Supervisor Sue Sadler said. She added she has not heard from concerned residents since the proposal was reworked.

One citizen did come forward against the proposal during the meeting’s public hearing. He said his home backs up to the property, and believes the solar arrays will not be aesthetically pleasing.

The Virginia Department of Transportation and the James City County Fire Department reviewed the new access route and found no problems.

Toomey said the site was suitable for SunPower’s needs because of the property’s topography and size, its proximity to a distribution line and major population areas, and its existing buffer of vegetation.

Resident Sean Lawler, whose property will be used by SunPower’s construction crews to access the site, also spoke and said a solar farm was a better use for the property than other options.

“That acreage is not going to stay farmland. [The owner] has already indicated he wants to develop it,” Lawler said. “In my opinion, a solar farm would be a perfect neighbor….I do not want to live next to another subdivision.”

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