The Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals approved a special use permit to Axton Solar and Vesper Energy to change the acreage of a solar farm project in Axton.
The special use permit requested to take the previously solar farm land of 1,203 acres, which was approved on February 24, 2021, remove 441 acres, and add 329 additional acres for a total acreage of 1,092 acres, 434 acres of which would be used for solar panels. The property is located north of Jones Ridge Road, one partial east of Mountain Valley Road, and on the southwest side of Daniel Road near its intersection with U.S. 58.
The facility will be a 200-201 megawatt facility in the Iriswood district.
Lee Clark, Director of Planning, Zoning and Inspections, commented on how long the project has been underway.
“This is, at some point soon, I guess we’ll be close to two years that we’ve been talking about this Axton Solar Project,” he said.
Trey Lopez with Vesper Energy and Axton Solar presented information on the project and how the company has worked to address concerns of nearby residents.
“The application before you seeks to enhance the project above and beyond Axton Solar’s current special use permit. Through thorough public engagement, we have sought to identify and address various concerns, questions, and offer feedback to the community by seeking a mutual understanding between the concerns of the landowners, the neighbors, and the local community,” Lopez said.
Some of the changes made include removing portions of the project, increased setbacks and vegetation buffers, implementing noise mitigation during construction, reducing construction hours, and only using Tier One modules which do not contain the chemical cadmium telluride, reducing the risk of harmful chemicals leaking.
Many residents spoke in favor of the project, many of which wore stickers that read “yes solar.”
Jimmy Ford noted the economic advantage the county would gain from the project. He said there is a current solar project in Axton, the tax per acre for which is $67.
“The total tax for that land now is $18,617.48 on 200 and some acres. In 2020, before it was used for solar energy, the tax on it was $1,027.98. That’s a little over 1,800 percent increase in taxes on the exact same amount of land.”
If land associated with the new project is taxed the same way, he said it would generate $3,682,342.36 over the projected 35 years of the project.
Jarrell Carter lives adjacent to the project with his wife, and both were initially against the project.
“We were opposed to it because of the eyesore and noise. (Axton Solar) talked to us and addressed our concerns about where the actual project would be, about how they would take care of the noise ordinance and things. They came out and really understood our problems and concerns that we had. So, speaking for my wife, we’re actually for it today,” he said.
Brian Robertson, of Robertson Ridge Road, spoke in support of the project.
“No one probably has any deeper roots than me and my wife, because the 100 acres that surround me was owned by my wife’s grandfather, and my mother-in-law lived there. The land adjacent to that was owned by my uncles and now by the Ellis’. Being able to keep it somewhat in the family, and at the end of the day, it is their land,” Robertson said.
Pam Ellis, the owner of the land used for the solar project, spoke in favor of the project.
“Part of the land that we’re discussing with Trey on this project is our farm, which was my parent’s farm, which was my grandparent’s farm. I was opposed like (the Carters) were at first for the project, just because just to our north and west was where the original solar farm was put in that was not regulated. And that adjoins by property,” Ellis said. “I wasn’t happy about it. Yes, it does boil down to the money with the county. It is a great opportunity. Our county, our area, needs money.”
While many others also spoke in favor, some residents spoke in opposition as well.
Rocky Wall, of Sandy River Road, said many of the people present were his neighbors and that he had been vocal in his opposition of the project. There are “a lot of things not being considered” such as Vesper refusing to provide EMF rating information to the state in their application, he said.
“Then, everyone is talking about being able to return it to the farmer in 30, 35, 40 years. Mr. Lopez in his town hall meeting over the summer readily admitted that they don’t know that. That’s just an opinion of theirs. It’s not a fact,” Wall said. He added there is no evidence about the long term effects of solar farms in general.
Other residents said they believed the solar panels would be an eye sore and feared the chemicals the area would be exposed to, but Lopez reiterated that no cadmium telluride would be used in the panels.
Clark set forth the conditions for the permit, including that the project must be completed within five years of the permit being granted.
The board unanimously voted to approve the special use permit.