County hires consultant to weigh in on solar farms

Mecklenburg County has taken the next stop in determining which is the best course of action for the county to adopt in the face of solar farms that wish to locate here and has hired the Berkley Group, a Virginia-based consulting firm, to help the county sort through the red tape and determine how to best approach the growing solar power industry.
Two firms have already released plans for solar farms in the Chase City area, and one of them, Carolina Solar, has already received approval from the county. The 70-megawatt facility was granted a special exception permit by the county in November and is to be located outside of Chase City on Spanish Grove Road.
Before the county could move ahead with a second, larger project planned for an 80-megawatt operation on more than 900 acres adjacent to Chase City, members of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors began to raise questions about the potential effects of the solar plants on current tax rates and the local economy.
At the heart of the controversy is how the addition of the solar farms could change the composite index formula, one of the big factors used in determining how much the state contributes to the local education budget and how much the county is required to fund locally for schools.
In January, several experts appeared before the board of supervisors, and Steve Jacobs, director of Consulting Services for Robinson, Farmer, Cox, suggested the county could see an overall net loss of close to $64,000 in revenue with the implementation of the solar farms. Jacobs estimated that educational revenue from the state would take a hit of around $148,000.
Earlier, the county had requested that Chase City, the community closest to the first two solar projects proposed in the county, submit the town’s general views on the solar projects. While the Chase City Planning Commission was expected to provide that report to the county some weeks ago, the group decided to finalize its report at a meeting on March 23, last Thursday.
However, on Thursday, Planning Commission Chairman M.J. Colgate said that with the hiring of the new consulting firm by the county, the situation had changed again and the town would postpone delivery of those statements.
Speaking this week, County Administrator Wayne Carter said the Berkley Group has been retained to look at the solar farms, how they will affect land use and the composite index. Carter added that since the solar industry is so new in Virginia, Mecklenburg can use the assistance of experts to help determine the best course for future action in the county regarding solar facilities.
Carter said he expects the firm to deliver its report within the next two months. Carter added that he believes the solar question will remain with the county for the foreseeable future and that several other solar firms have expressed interested in sites within the area.