Richmond County’s Board of Supervisors approved zoning for Strata Solar’s Bookers Mill project in a 4-to-1 vote.

Bookers Mill is slated to be a 127-megawatt facility that will be built on 800 acres of  A-1 property, and is touted as offering the county a wide range of benefits. These include $1.65 million for an upfront payment, an additional $6.23 million over the projected 35-year lifespan of the project, and a boost in property value up to $15,000 per acre for the land with the solar panels. The deal also calls for investments, including a second EMS facility in the Farnham area and upgrading Richmond County Volunteer Fire Department for Company 2.

The project was first presented in December 2019 and underwent months of review and scrutiny. Meetings on the matter drew crowds that filled the Meeting Room. But, in August, the planning commission gave its approval in a 5-to-3 vote.

This month, the board’s resolution “determined that approval of the special exception permit and the sighting agreement are in the interest of the public health, safety, convenience and welfare of the citizens of the county and the future development of the county.”

District 4 supervisor Robert Pemberton cast the sole opposing vote. He said that while he was certain that the project would bring economic benefits to the county, the people who were opposed to it are his neighbors.

“After hearing the objections of my neighbors, including the safety of their water table, the possible reduction of real estate value, the confusion and turmoil of the construction traffic and also the possible pollution of the streams and water shed, I feel like their voices need to be heard. And therefore I vote no,” Pemberton explained.

Although the county made a positive zoning determination for Bookings Mill, there is still much to be done before development begins.

The project still needs to go through steps, such as getting stormwater permits through the Department of Environmental Quality as well as Erosion and Sediment permits from Richmond County, which can be obtained after the plan review.

County administrator, Morgan Quicke, said he can’t estimate the timing of the plan review, but he doesn’t expect construction to begin until at least the spring of 2021.