The Mecklenburg County Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the construction on the proposed “7 Bridges Solar Project” in a Sept. 30 meeting.
Matt Thornton with Longroad Energy, Deron Lawrence, Senior Director, Natural Resources Permitting & Policy at Longroad Energy, and Jim Orrell with Stantec Consulting presented the Mecklenburg County Planning Commission with their comprehensive plan for an industrial sized solar project in the Chase City area.
“We have worked really hard to be consistent with your values and for this project to be out of sight, out of mind. We have studied this thing to death. We, with Stantec, have done wetland studies, cultural studies, geotechnical; over half million dollars spent to make sure that this is a good site for solar,” said Lawrence.
Studies and preparations for the project began in 2017 and have continued through this year with many community members and environmentalist opposing the proposal.
Thornton said there are four major themes to the project; it is in a well-sited area, community input has been considered, it would be great for the local economy, and the commitment to project construction.
According to the Longroad representatives the project will not be visible to passers by and will bring over 200 jobs equally $8-10 million in labor income to the county. “The project is expected to spend $20-$30 million directly with local vendors/contractors during construction and $7 million in new tax revenue for the county while not requiring county services.”
Thornton, Lawrence, and Orrell asked the Planning Commission to approve the “7 Bridges Project” saying that project is in full compliance with the Mecklenburg County Solar Ordinance.
When asked about the wildlife in the area surrounding the solar projects, Longroad said that they plan to have wildlife corridors that will allow wildlife to migrate through the solar farm unimpeded. There will not be a fence around the entire property. Each solar block will be fenced in allowing wildlife to roam freely between them on the property.
Commissioner David Brankley said that the goal was to make sure that all of these solar projects were spread out and not all piled in one location. “There are already three in my area and now this is four and I know of another one in the making in my district. Being on the Board of Supervisors I get all the calls when something goes wrong. The two that have been built haven’t been good for anybody. I would think that Robert [Hendrick] has been getting phone calls too and I know he has had to close down Bluestone several times. I get phone calls about mud coming in the road, and I know you all elaborated on that.” He continued, “The three that we have had in the county made all of the promises too and said that they would do everything that they are supposed to. They wanted me to come out and look at the buffer and I’ve probably got more trees in my yard than they have on the whole side of the Grasshopper project.”
Brankley said that he saw that Longroad Energy had gotten signatures and approvals from business owners in town but that he represented the people that live around the project and they were the ones that he answered to.
Matthew Thornton said that Longroad Energy was committed to honoring their commitments and work with county leaders to give them the tools to enforce certain conditions through a letter of contract.
Other concerns were raised by Commissioner Mark Warren about the companies proposing these solar projects never bringing letters of support from communities where solar projects have been successful. Thornton said that they would be happy to provide references from other projects.
It was pointed out that the Longroad proposal missed the mark on a few of the Comprehensive Plan’s guidelines causing concerns with some of the Commissioners. The plan calls for solar projects to be 500 acres; the “7 Bridges Project” is currently at 799 acres. It also states that a solar facility should not be within two miles of another facility. The proposed project is only one mile from the Grasshopper project in Chase City.
Longroad Energy is a Boston based company focused on the development and operation of wind and solar energy projects across North America. Since its creation, the company has been successfully developing, financing, and constructing wind and solar projects, currently operating over 1600 megawatts within the projects. Longroad is an American company and using all American made equipment.