By a vote of 6 to 2, with one abstaining vote, members of the Mecklenburg County (Va.) Board of Supervisors turned thumbs down on Monday on a Special Exception Permit for the Ladybug Solar Project. A large crowd of citizens from around the Bracey area, mostly opposed to the project, were on hand to hear the board’s final decision on the controversial project, which would have allowed the construction and operation of the 65 MW solar facility abutting Redlawn and Goodes Ferry Road.
The board had been scheduled to hand down its decision at its regular March meeting, but granted a request to delay the decision from Cypress Creek Renewables, the company behind the project.
Voting in favor of granting the permit were Supervisors Claudia Lundy and Vice-Chairman Gregg Gordon. Voting against were Supervisors Andy R. Hargrove, Glanzy M. Spain, Dan Tanner, James “Jim” Jennings, David Brankley and Chairman Glenn Barbour.
Supervisor Sterling Wilkinson abstained from the discussion and the vote, citing potential conflict of interest.
The vote came after representatives from Cypress Creek Renewables appeared again to outline the project and measures they had and would take to insure that the project was in compliance with all local rules, comprehensive plans and requests from area citizens and officials.
During the public hearing, however, citizens were quick to express their doubts about the project or Cypress Creek’s ability to keep its promises.
Al Freen told the group that the company has been in business for a limited amount of time and has no track record or experience in the long-term operation or deactivation of a commercial scale solar plant.
Lynn Cisar, one of the most outspoken critics of the project, repeated her concerns about the “unspoiled” scenic nature of the area, the possible harm to wildlife, financial impact on property values and that industrial scale power plants do not fit in with the Mecklenburg Comprehensive Plan.
Nancy Freer questioned the reported tax benefits of the project and asked if those benefits would cover the cost of repairing roads damaged during the construction phase of the project. As a real estate seller, she said that never in her career has anyone come to her asking her to find them a home near a solar farm.
Skip Foyer told the group that while he has solar panels in his backyard, he feels this site in not the proper place for solar facilities. He also asked what Mecklenburg is going to gain from the project.
Robert Dunn warned the supervisors about the dangers of toxins in solar panels and questioned what happens if those toxins get into the lake. He also suggested that the county adopt the same sort of standoffs for solar plants as are used for commercial hog farms.
Eight more citizens spoke against the project for similar reasons.
Only one area resident, Al Potter, appeared to defend the project, pointing out that Lake Gaston itself is “part of a power plant,” adding that the hydropower plant is probably “less efficient than the solar plant would be.”
After hearing from the public, Supervisor David Brankley asked County Administrator Wayne Carter if staff had any issue with the project. Carter replied that he had “some concerns.”
Among the concerns listed by Carter was the unclear picture on exactly what the tax revenues for the county would be from the project as well as more specific details concerning the decommissioning process when the project ends its useful life. Carter also expressed “major concerns” on traffic estimates relating to the construction project, saying the estimates were “woefully low based on other construction projects.” Carter added that there are other issues which have yet to be studied and as yet, he has seen no agreements between Virginia Department of Transportation and the company on traffic and road issues.
Brankley pointed out that when the first proposal for a solar farm came before the county, the board voted unanimously to approve. Then, he said, there was another proposal, “then we had another and another.”
Brankley said that in the wake of so many proposals, the county had hired consultants to help with how solar farms fit into Mecklenburg’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinances. Brankley added that it appears that the Ladybug Project seemed to showcase all of the negative issues that came up during that process.
“I’m not saying we’re against solar or green energy,” said Brankley, “but I’m not sure this is the right place.”
He added that perhaps the county should take another look at the situation, but suggested that this project be denied due to the designation of most of the property as agricultural and residential property.
Brankley made the motion to deny.