CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Chesterfield will soon get a dose of green energy following the approval of a 5-megawatt solar project in the county’s rural western end.

The Board of Supervisors voted to endorse the project permit on April 27, reversing an earlier decision by the county Planning Commission, which recommended that the project be rejected.

The project will occupy approximately 45 of the 135-acre parcel off of Mt. Hermon Road, potentially providing power directly to 1,250 homes in the surrounding area.

Runoff Ramifications

The planning commission voted to recommend denying the project at their February meeting, citing concerns over potential runoff from the solar panels, which are now considered “hardscape” under Virginia environmental regulations.

Greg Werner, a representative of Nexamp, the company developing the project, said they made several changes to address the concerns and protect the local Swift Creek Watershed.

“We are no longer building or disturbing any of the 20% slope areas,” he said.

Werner also said that they no longer planned to build overhead power lines, “now it’s a buried conduit along the driveway coming in from the road.”

While the planning commission had been split on the project, voting to recommend denial on a 3-2 vote, County Planning Official Harold Ellis said the community was enthusiastic about the project and didn’t share the commission’s concerns.

“Those things didn’t come up at the meeting, there really weren’t any environmental issues that residents nearby brought up,” he said.

A Family Affair

Several residents came to the board meeting to speak in favor of the project, praising its positive environmental impact and the preservation of a wooded plot.

Peter and Emily Martin, who own the land the solar project will be built on, said the project would help them keep the land in the family by generating extra income – all while keeping their commitment to a healthy environment.

“Clean Water, soil and air are super important to me,” said Emily Martin.

Peter Martin added that the land has been in his wife’s family for over 150 years. Until recently, they made some income by selectively harvesting timber from the wooded plot, but fluctuating prices have made that business less secure than it was in the past.

He told the board the new project would be a benefit both to their family and the residents of Chesterfield.

“Having these green spaces improves the quality of life for the entire community,” Martin said.

Jerry Turner, another local resident, also spoke in support of the project, but called on the board not to require fencing around the panels to shield them from public view.

“You don’t need to hide this kinda technology. Don’t hide it behind a fence,” he said. “The county citizens need to know that we’re moving away from fossil fuels.”

The board voted unanimously in favor of the permit – fencing included – clearing the way for construction to begin on the green energy project.