By Michael Campbell, News Editor
June 27, 2017 | 1:00 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – A plot of land nestled along Rives Road next to Interstate 295 will soon become a hub of green energy after supervisors unanimously approved 15-megawatt utility-scale facility to set up shop in the county earlier this month.
New Energy Ventures, now known as Caden Energy, according to the company’s website, plans to develop a 148-acre site along Rives Road near I-295 northbound into a solar facility that is capable of producing enough energy to power 3,000 county homes annually through the use of roughly 60,000 solar panels across 71 acres, with the power generated from the site being fed to a Dominion Energy substation nearby.
Representatives from the company spoke to supervisors and the community during a public hearing that saw no comments from residents, noting that the facility would be “totally passive,” require no connection to the county’s water or sewer system, and be “virtually silent,” save the “slight humming sound made by inverters and transformers” on the site.
The deal for Caden Energy to bring solar energy into Prince George comes just over a month after county leaders approved a series of amendments to several zoning ordinances, which included laying out the ground rules for utility-scale solar facilities that want to set up shop in the county.
According to county documents, large-scale solar facilities would have to have a 50-foot setback, or buffer, from property rights-of-way or residential property, and that would have to be part of the facility’s site plan.
In Caden Energy’s presentation to the county, representatives said this new facility would have “an eight-foot fence around the perimeter of the solar field and all equipment will be set back from the property lines.” In addition, vegetation, including bushes and trees would be planted around the fencing in certain places and buffer would be increased between the site and Interstate 295.
That fencing would also address the county’s requirement that the facility provides some level of security, which would also be bolstered by Caden Energy’s commitment to having remote 24-hour, seven days a week remote monitoring of the site, along with local and remote shutdown capabilities.
Once installed, the panels themselves will stand just over six-feet tall and feature a “single-axis tracking system,” which allows for the panels to essentially tilt toward the sun to get maximum energy from the panels on a given day.
Those panels would be able to withstand winds up to 140 miles per hour, which would be the equivalent of a strong Category Four hurricane or an EF-3 tornado.
According to representatives, a number of things must be completed before crews can begin work, which includes securing control of the site through either an option to lease or purchase the site. Additionally, Caden Energy will need to file for an interconnection study and sign an agreement with Dominion Energy. That request was provided to the energy provider in August of last year.
Caden Energy will also have to comply with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Permit-by-Rule or PBR regulations, which puts large-scale solar facilities through an extensive 14-step process that looks at stormwater management, archeological, architectural, cultural, and natural resource impacts, effects on wildlife, such as threatened and endangered species, and the impact on nearby wetlands through analysis from the U.S Army Corps of Engineers, among others.
So far, company officials report no issues were found in the plan’s initial threatened and endangered species and cultural resources studies and they expect to have “no encroachment into wetlands” as part of this project.
Once those items are addressed, crews will be able to begin construction, which will utilize approximately 150 workers across a variety of disciplines, including electricians, truck drivers, security, fencing, clearing and grading, and others during the roughly six-to-eight months of expected construction. Company representatives said, “most” of the workers can be locally sourced.
A stipulation in Prince George’s solar policies requires solar facilities to have a detailed decommissioning plan on file with the county before the first panel is installed at a given site.
According to Caden Energy, the removal project would be “relatively simple” due in part because most of the system would be above-ground. As part of the plan, the panels would be removed and sent to a recycling facility or approved landfill.
The steel racking and posts, electrical wiring, transformers, and inverters will also be removed and recycled, with the various concrete foundations holding the panels in place being removed, allowing for the site to be cleaned of debris, graded and reseeded.
Representatives note that the “value of recycled materials can exceed the cost of removal and site restoration.”
Prior to the vote, Supervisor Alan Carmichael spoke to positive feedback he has heard from residents in the area about the proposed solar facility.
“Everything seems to have been done to make this project work,” he said. “Those living there are happy to see it since it is our first. It is hard to see or say anything bad about it.”
This project is not the first for Caden Energy, with officials listing nearly ten ongoing solar projects, a majority of which are in Virginia.
With the county’s unanimous approval, work on the project can proceed as scheduled, with Caden Energy officials putting an in-service date of late 2018 on Prince George County’s first large-scale solar facility.
As the county gets its first solar facility, the project stands on the backdrop of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s action to reduce the Commonwealth’s carbon emissions, which seeks to cap greenhouse gases and grow Virginia’s clean energy economy.
“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” the governor said. “Once approved, this regulation will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the Commonwealth’s power plants and give rise to the next generation of energy jobs. As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void. Beginning today, Virginia will lead the way to cut carbon and lean in on the clean energy future.”
According to the governor’s office, “Since the beginning of the McAuliffe Administration, the Commonwealth has seen an increase from just 17 megawatts of solar installed to more than 1,800 megawatts of solar currently in service or under development,” adding, “In the last year alone, solar installations have risen nearly 1,200 percent” and “the number of Virginians employed by the solar industry rose 65 percent to 3,236 – twice the number of jobs supported by coal.”