Supervisors hear solar specific bills breakdown in work session

Jami Snead
Womack Publishing News Service
Posted: June 23, 2020 | 4:22 p.m.

Jefferson Park roundabout options and Elementary School design updates presented

PRINCE GEORGE— Robert Crockett and Susan Seward with Advantage Strategies presented the Rural Solar Development Coalition Report. The project was formed during the General Assembly to begin to provide a “voice for rural localities on the front lines of solar development”.

Mr. Crockett stressed the importance of the Clean Economy Act that passed in session this year, which increases solar requirement from 5000 megawatts to 16,100 megawatts of power. Based on an average of ten acres per megawatt, 16,100 megawatts would amount to about 252 square miles of solar development in Virginia.

Susan Seward explained how Solar Specific Bills were broken into three categories; Zoning Provisions, Revenue Sharing, and Host Agreement. Portsmouth Delegate Steve Heretick introduced these bills “at the behest of the solar developers”.

HB 655/SB 870, or the Proffer Bill,  “authorizes a locality to include reasonable regulations and provisions in its zoning ordinance for a special exception for any solar project”. This bill essentially allows a proffered condition in the CUP for a solar project. Not unlike a regular proffer bill, there has to be a nexus. After many discussions, Advantage Strategies believes that they have found a way to draw that “reasonable nexus” and that would be with fire and emergency services and broadband.

HB 656/SB 875 “authorizes a locality to include in its zoning ordinance provisions to incorporate generally accepted national standards for the use of solar panels and battery storage”. When looking at solar applicant expectations in the CUP, the equipment being installed in the locality would meet on of the recognized standards.

HB 657 “allows a locality to waive the requirement that solar facilities be reviewed for substantial accord with the comprehensive plan”. This bill was originally drafted without requiring a 22/32 review for projects up to 150 megawatts. Local governments “killed” the Senate’s draft of the bill and landed on a permissive bill, meaning that the decision to waive the 22/32 review will be left up to the localities.

The Revenue Sharing bills start with HB 1131/SB 762,  “authorizes any locality by ordinance to assess a revenue share of up to $1,400 per megawatt on solar projects. Specifically, the revenue share is measured on generation capacity based on submissions by the facility owner to the interconnecting utility”. Projects not eligible for revenue share include: 20 megawatts or less that has filed an initial interconnect request on or before December 31, 2018, and 5 megawatt or less. “This is, I think, one of our big victories and here’s why. From our point of view this revenue share goes for the life of the project. 25 years, 30 years, you get a constant stream of revenue.” said Seward.

HB 1131/SB762 says that if you adopt a revenue share ordinance, you can not assess the machinery and tools tax. It also states that revenue share cannot be retroactively applied to any solar project for which an application was filed with the locality on or before July 1, 2020 unless the applicant voluntarily agrees to enter into a revenue share or the locality and applicant agree to substitute the amount of voluntary payment for a similar amount of a solar energy revenue share.

HB 1434/SB 763 changes the local property tax exemption for solar energy projects from an 80 percent exemption for the life of the project to a step down scale of an 80 percent exemption in the first five years, 70 percent in the sound five years, and 60 percent for all remaining years in service.

Localities will have to use a math exercise to determine which route they would take with each project. “Based on the initial homework that we have done in Sussex, it looks like the revenue share is going to be the better money, on one project by about $600,000 to $700,000 over a lifetime.” said Seward.

HB 1675, referred to as the Host Agreement legislation, “authorizes host agreements between localities and solar facilities”. The bill is based on the ability to locate a solar farm within an opportunity zone and it must meet the criteria based on poverty rates, population and migration, and median household income. “One of the Senators that went through the discussion of this bill said ‘the bill is so wide open you could drive a truck through it if you wanted’. So it gives the counties the opportunity to do a lot of things with respect to how host agreements can be utilized to accommodate the needs of that jurisdiction.” said Crockett.

Lunenburg, Appomattox, Charlotte, Halifax, and Richmond Counties have joined the Rural Solar Development Coalition. The membership invoice is $5000 per year, which supports Advantage Strategies time, travel time, staff time, draft ordinances, templates, etc.

Last month the board discussed some options for the Smart Scale application for the Jefferson Park Road Roundabout. There are three options to consider. A typical single lane roundabout like the one at the back gate of Fort Lee,  the need for a southbound bypass lane and northbound right turn lane, just the northbound turn lane option  for increases due to anticipated school traffic. The Virginia Department of Transportation recommends option three because it scores best on the cost benefit ratio and makes the overall cost score higher. County staff prefers option two, which includes the southbound bypass lane and northbound right turn lane, when looking at the longterm. The Board all seemed to agree the option two was the most sensible choice and will hear resolutions in the July meeting. This project is slated for 2025 construction.

A thirty member team has been working on the design of the Elementary School Design and provided the supervisors with an update on the progress. A tentative schedule has been developed, multiple floor plan options have been narrowed down to two, options were presented to the School Board in May, where they selected to move forward with Option Z.4, and the Architectural team held a preliminary site plan meeting with the County Site Review Team on May 21. A tentative schedule plans to have bids out and contracts ready in February, start construction in March, and open the school in March of 2022.

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