Solar Panels

If Richmond County doesn’t approve Michael Self’s solar projects, he has options that will upset the community even more, he warned at the May planning commission meeting.

Self, doing business as Self Properties Business Trust, and a Minnesota-based company called Impact Power Solutions (IPS) are seeking permits for five community solar projects.

Understanding community solar

Also referred to as solar gardens, these projects involve a landowner, like Self, leasing land for a solar array that generates power, which is fed directly into the distribution network. Instead of selling that power to the utility company, it’s pushed to subscribers who want solar power but either don’t have the space for solar panels or don’t want them onsite.

“When we put power into the grid, we get a bill credit, it’s basically like a coupon that we sell to another Dominion customer somewhere else on the grid, and they use that to offset the power that they consume,” explained Evan Carlson, director of land and legal for IPS.

There “likely will be real savings to subscribers.” But it hasn’t been determined whether those subscribers will be residential or commercial users or whether they’ll be in Richmond County or beyond.

Community solar projects are only viable on certain parcels of land. Two key requirements are access to three-phase power lines and close proximity to a substation.

It’s no accident IPS chose Self’s properties. Initially, the company identified 100 potential target sites across the state. Then, it determined only 10 of them had real hope, among them was Self’s land. “So, these sites were specifically selected,” Carlson said.

Timing and position

To get a solar garden project off the ground, IPS has to pay Dominion to study the proposed project. And to get Dominion to do that, the proposed project has to be first or second in the queue, according to Carlson.

The Self properties hold positions one through five in the queue, which, he says, is rare.

Furthermore, for the projects to have a chance of being reality, the studies must be complete when the program opens this fall.

The proposed projects

There are three 5-megawatt projects proposed on Martin’s Valley Lane, Drinking Swamp Rd. and Calvary Church Rd., and a two-megawatt facility on Richmond Rd. adjacent to Crop Production Services.

The remaining project is on Richmond Rd. and Mulberry Rd. in a spot that Self believes is the perfect place. But it’s also the project he said has likely been the most controversial.

“It’s only perfect for him. For me and my neighbors, it’s far from perfect,” said Haynesville resident David Coates. “A lot the people around the proposed facility are elderly, have health problems including me and my wife, and [we] shouldn’t have to worry about what else will happen to our health because of solar panels.”

He expressed concerns that the heat drawn to the solar panels will make their electricity bills go up. “And in discussions it has been suggested that Mr. Self’s property could go up in value $10,000 an acre but mine will likely decline $10,000 and I’ll have to pay the same tax on it. So I ask every member of the planning commission to put yourself in our place and not let this pass,” he said.

Betty Coates, who said her property would be surrounded by the solar array, spoke about the health concerns at the April meeting. In May, she focused on the disruption to quality of life, raising concerns about noise like what she hears at the solar facility at Haynesville Correctional Center. And like other opponents, she wants to preserve the rural character of the area.

 “I want you to know I speak for all the people in that little neighborhood. I speak for the young, the old, the black, the white, the Hispanic, the men and the women. We all had dreams of living in a rural area. We wanted to have beautiful, peaceful land around us so we could have peace and tranquility. And that’s what we have now… with all this mind I would like to request you deny this solar farm,” she told the commissioners.

Initially, the Richmond Rd./Mulberry Rd. project was four megawatts but it has been scaled back to three megawatts.

“We cared enough to cut our system size down by 25%. That’s 25% of our margin. We’re doing our best,” Self said of the project.

Focused on community and business

Self and IPS are promoting a spirit of cooperation. They claim they want to be good neighbors are willing to work with the community to address concerns and make reasonable accommodations.

Although, all solar applications have to go through the exact same process, according to County Administrator Morgan Quicke, Self told the commissioners he had the option to work with a larger company on the Martin’s Valley Ln. project that had a team ready to go and assured him they could get the project done.

But he did not go that route. He chose IPS specifically because “it’s a community friendly company.”

However, Self made it clear that he’s a businessman, one with land that has attractive attributes, including access to three-phase power lines and to Route 360. With that comes options, including an offer from a family that’s expressed interest in putting up a sawmill to process timber, and he has between 600 – 700 ready for harvest.

“The solar option I chose is best for the community, best for everyone, and slightly better for me. So just remember, you might not like a lot of the choices presented. But it’s better than a lot of the alternatives,” said Self.