Richmond County Planning Commission may make its recommendation on the Hemings solar project in the next couple weeks. 

EDF Renewables wants to develop a 4.9 megawatt solar facility along Richmond Road adjacent to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Representatives from the company made presentations to the planning commission and the Richmond County Board of Supervisors this month outlining changes and additions to the site plan, hoping that the county will now find the terms agreeable.

According to the current version of the plan, EDF will develop its facility on about 35 acres at the back of an 84-acre parcel. The proposed positioning meets or exceeds the requirement of a setback of over 500 feet and it has the 100-foot setback on the western side to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, said EDF project developer Chris Gordon.

The solar facility will connect to Northern Neck Electric’s substation, which is directly across the road, via overhead wiring. And it’s projected to produce over 11,000 megawatt hours of “clean electricity” each year, which is equivalent to annual use of 915 homes, said Gordon.

Further, EDF promises that 100% of the power generated will go to users in Richmond County.

The facility is projected to have a 25 to 35-year lifespan, and once it’s decommissioned the land can be returned to farm use, according to EDF.

One of the major changes that was highlighted during the presentations is that a previous version of the project plan required the company to remove equipment up to 36-inches deep. Now, “anything that goes into the ground comes out of the ground,” said county administrator Morgan Quicke.

Additionally, EDF is adding soil sampling of the project site. Quicke said the county staff, the county attorney and EDF agree that soil sampling is more beneficial than test well sites. 

The plan prohibits the company from using cadmium telluride panels or other prohibited materials, and EDF eliminated the battery storage option.

No equipment will stand over 15 feet tall, “so there’s a low visual profile,” said Gordon. He said EDF increased the amount of vegetative screening planned for the project by four times. The company agreed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s request for native plants and trees for the screening, including species from a list provided by the refuge. The company also  agreed to replace any dead trees and shrubs in that screening. 

The wildlife refuge asked that EDF use agricultural fencing instead of chain-link fencing. The company said its plan now calls for the facility to be secured by wood posts and square wire mesh, as suggested by Fish and Wildlife, and that barrier will rise at least seven feet from the ground.

Another issue of debate between the county and EDF was the cap on third-party fees. EDF is now fully responsible for reimbursing Richmond County for those costs. Quicke said the staff will do everything possible keep those attorney and third-party review fees down, but that cap has been removed so the county is not limited to the previously outlined maximum rates. 

“The caps were not necessarily designed to limit what we would have to pay,” Gordon clarified. “We fully intend to and are willing to spend what it takes to get the project permitted. Just looking at it from a budget/business perspective, it’s hard to agree to a contract with an open ended fee structure… But  we feel we’re all on the same page as to what those expenses may be,” he added.

In total, Gordon said EDF’s plan is subject to 41 conditions. He also noted that the Hemings solar project will not create additional traffic, and there will be little to no demand on county infrastructure and services including roads, water, sewers, EMS and schools.

Gordon said the facility will provide jobs during construction and EDF typically tries to the best of its ability to hire locally for contract services, such as landscaping.

He also added that the company has made efforts to engage the community, including sending mailers to nearby residents and holding an open house.

Some members of the planning commission did not receive the final draft of the plan until 3 p.m. on the day of the presentation. So, they wanted more time to review it but said they may be ready to make a recommendation at their monthly meeting in October.