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Spring Grove solar farm proposed

Hexagon Energy LLC, a Charlottesville-based producer of renewable energy, hopes to construct a 150-megawatt solar farm at the intersection of Routes 10 and 40 in the Spring Grove area of Surry County.

The Loblolly Solar project is proposed to be sited on approximately 900 acres of a 2,403-acre contiguous tract of timberland — a $185 million investment that will result in 205 jobs and $16 million in taxes for Surry County over the project’s 40-year lifespan, according to the application Hexagon submitted to the county’s planning and zoning staff in May.

The applicant has requested four approvals for the project: a comprehensive plan amendment, a rezoning, a conditional use permit and a resolution declaring the proposal “substantially in accord” with the amended comprehensive plan. At its June 28 meeting, the county’s Planning Commission set a tentative date of Aug. 23 for a public hearing on the four requests, contingent on Hexagon submitting additional documentation by the end of next week.

“At this time we do not have all of the required material,” said Horace Wade, the county’s new director of planning and community development.

Hexagon previously held an informal community input meeting on the project June 16.

“Let’s just say it was not well received by the community,” Wade told Surry’s commissioners.

As he recalls, 40 to 50 people attended, many of whom were opposed to the idea. The primary concerns, he said, were the project’s proximity to residential areas and a church, the amount of landscape buffering around the solar panels, potential health effects from living near solar panels and the effects the project might have on local wildlife.

According to Hexagon’s application, Loblolly Solar will use passive photovoltaic solar cells to generate electricity that will be fed into Dominion Energy’s power grid and inverters to convert the direct current into alternating current. These consist of common materials including glass, polymer, aluminum, copper and silicon semiconductor material. PV panels function as a solid state, inert crystal composed of non-toxic materials and are most similar to a pane of glass, the application states, with “no chemicals, fluids, or materials that are capable of entering the environment.”

“The PV and inverter technology have been utilized and studied for over 30 years and are not known to pose any significant health dangers to neighbors,” the application states. “Instead, the reduction in pollution from fossil-fuel-fired electric generators make solar farms a positive impact on human health.”

The application further states that the solar panels will be contained within five separate fenced enclosures with wildlife corridors between them, and minimum 100-foot setbacks from property lines and delineated wetlands. The company further proposes a 250-foot setback from all roadways and a 500-foot setback from all residences.

If approved, Loblolly Solar would become Surry County’s fourth solar farm. A 142-megawatt facility and a 97-megawatt facility are already up and running, and earlier this year, Isle of Wight and Surry counties each approved a 240-megawatt solar farm that will span 1,750 acres across the county border.