Third solar project sets sights on Chase City

Brookfield Renewables has become the third firm planning to build a solar farm near Chase City.
On Thursday night, representatives of the company held an informational meeting at the Estes Community Center to introduce the company to residents and answer any questions they might have.
The 60-megawatt “Otter Creek” project would be located on a 690-acre tract of land northwest of the intersection of Spanish Grove Road and Highway 92, approximately 2 miles from Chase City.
The land for the Brookfield project is adjacent to the tract of land Carolina Solar Energy plans to build a separate 70-megawatt project. Still a third company, Geenex, has planned an 80-megawatt project on a 900-acre site adjacent to Chase City.
A stumbling block for the projects has been concern over how the value of the projects would impact local revenue. In particular, how the massive value of the investments would skew the Composite Index, a measure used to determine how much state funding is contributed to local public school systems.
Francis Hodsoll, CEO of SolUnesco, the Reston, Va.-based company that developed the newest Chase City solar project, explained that the Composite Index matter has been resolved as the Virginia Department of Taxation has determined that investments in solar projects will not impact the Composite Index. The ruling was not for the Chase City cases but another solar project within the Commonwealth.
“The governor’s office has said that in their opinion this ruling sets a precedent for all the solar projects in Virginia. The issue,” said Hodsoll, “was how was the project going to be valued when the state took a look at how much income the county was getting from infrastructure like this.”
Large infrastructure investments such as power generation facilities usually result in a locality being considered more affluent and therefore needing less funding for schools from the state government.
Hodsoll said the department of taxation handed down a ruling in which localities will not be penalized for the investment, thus the investments will actually benefit the locality. In the case of the Otter Creek project, Mecklenburg should realize around $700,000 over the life of the project.
“I understand the county has a consultant for this, and we’re happy to review those calculations with him,” said Hodsoll. “We have reviewed them with the state department of taxation and the state department of education, and they have said that our calculations are reasonable.”
The project, started by SolUnesco, is one of two the company planned for Virginia. In addition to the Chase City project, the firm planned a similar project near Emporia in Greenville County. Both of the projects were purchased by Brookfield Renewables, a global energy company with projects in North and South America and Europe.
Traditionally, Brookfield has been known for its hydroelectric generation capacities but has in recent years moved into alternative energy projects such as solar and wind power.
Terence Hartford, Brookfield’s Director of Project Development for North America, said on Thursday night that Brookfield tends to go with proven technology and that over the last few years, solar and wind energy has proven its value to the overall energy market.
Contacted on Friday morning, Mecklenburg County Administrator Wayne Carter confirmed that the state has changed its policy on taxing solar generation facilities.
“They said they didn’t realize the rate that was being taxed and would change the policy,” said Carter. “We were aware of that.”
The state was taxing the facilities at the rate of 100 percent, explained Carter, but has now dropped that rate to 20 percent. Although that will allow the county to realize tax revenue from the project, Carter said that $700,000 over the 40-year expected lifespan of the plant is not “really a lot of money.”
“And,” he added, “$700,000 is the best-case scenario. It doesn’t take into account depreciation, the percent of taxable property or anything else.”
The Mecklenburg County Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the matter of solar plants in the county at its June 29 meeting, but, according to Carter, the company has not filed with the county for a special exception permit, so the Otter Creek project is not on the agenda for that meeting.
So far, all three of the solar projects announced for Mecklenburg County have been in a relatively small area near Chase City. Asked on Thursday night why his company had selected this particular site, SolUnesco CEO Hodsoll said the location has “lots of capacity to move electricity because of the transmission lines right there.”
Each of the three projects is within sight of several massive transmission lines, giving the companies easy access to the grid for distribution of the power they produce.
The “Otter Creek” project represents an investment of somewhere between $80 and $90 million dollars. If approved, construction could start as early as next year with completion as early as 2019.