CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — A proposed 5-megawatt solar farm in western Chesterfield County faces an uncertain future after the planning commission refused to endorse the project at its meeting on Feb. 15.

The solar farm, which would be built on an agricultural plot near the intersection of Mt. Hermon road and Genito Road, is being proposed by Nexamp Energy, a solar company that’s completed a number of similar projects in agricultural areas.

After a presentation from company representatives and a series of questions from commissioners, the planning commission voted to recommend denial of the project. However, that doesn’t spell doom for the solar farm – yet.

Instead, the project can advance to the Board of Supervisors, where it will receive a final decision. But without the endorsement of the planning commission, Commissioner Tommy Owens suggested it could face an uphill battle.

Environmental Concerns?

One of the objections raised by commissioner Tommy Owens was environmental, but it had nothing to do with greenhouse gases or carbon emissions.

Instead, his concern was for potential runoff into the local waterways.

“The property is located in the Upper Swift Creek watershed,” he said. “A lot of people were concerned about water quality in that area.”

An environmental engineer working on the project told the board they were prepared to add whatever measures the board deemed necessary to control runoff form the project, and pointed to the conditions included in the permit application, which exceed state requirements for stormwater control.

Meanwhile, stormwater runoff was not listed as one of the topics raised by residents at a community meeting held in January. In fact, if there was any local opposition to the solar farm, it had dissipated by Feb. 15.

County staff told the commissioners they had received no public comment opposing the project and no one stepped forward during the public hearing to speak against it.

Working on a Deadline

Greg Werner, a Business Development Manager for Nexamp, also told the board that the company couldn’t afford to delay the permit application.

Central to the company’s pitch is cheaper energy for nearby residents. Werner said that at similar projects they completed in Maryland, they guaranteed “savings of 10 percent.”

But those savings depend on the project’s participation in Virginia’s Shared Solar Program because applications are highly competitive.

“If there’s a decision that keeps us past a decision at tonight’s meeting,” Werner said. “I’m afraid the odds of the project actually getting into the program plummet.”

If the project is approved, the county would net a yearly payment of $1,400 per Megawatt generated. With a projected capacity of 5 Megawatts that would mean a cool $7,000 a year for the county to spend on local road and facilities improvements.

The Board of Supervisors will meet on Mar. 9. While an agenda has not yet been published, citizens will be able to submit comments online ahead of the meeting.