The Patrick County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan to address a recent issue regarding solar and/or renewable energy. The hearing is set for March 21 at 6 p.m. in the Community Room, Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) – Stuart site.
Kurt Bozenmayer, a member of the commission, first broached the issue at a February 27 Board of Supervisors work session, after he learned that a request from a solar company had been signed by a county official.
The document indicates the county received a request from Fairy Stone Solar, LLC, Patrick County, VA, a subsidiary of Energix US, LLC, a renewables company based in Arlington, VA.
Titled Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Small Renewable Energy Projects (Solar) Local Governing Body Certification Form, the document states in part, that “the undersigned requests that a responsible official of the local governing body sign the certification statement below.” The box selected indicated the proposed facility complied with land use ordinances.
County Administrator Geri Hazelwood’s signature appears on the certification form, along with her title and printed name. The form was dated October 22, 2021.
“My goat got, got,” said Doug Perry, who represents the Smith River District on the Patrick County Board of Supervisors and also serves on the Planning Commission.
Perry was among the supervisors last year to assure residents there was no indication that a renewable energy company was interested in locating in the county during discussions of a revenue-sharing agreement last fall.
At the time, Perry recalled, “we had so many citizens” attending supervisor meetings, “standing there saying, ‘these people are crooked …, are wrong, and violate everything imaginable.
“And we sat there and told them, ‘as far as we know nothing’s” going on, Perry said.
Earlier this year, the supervisors approved the revenue-sharing proposal for solar energy projects and energy storage systems.
Two land parcels were referenced on the certification form — parcel numbers 4911-72 and 4811-37.
A deed to one of the land parcels which contains two tracts of land, about 79 acres, is located in the Mayo River District. It is in the name of Nash J. Heath, of Belleview, FL, according to records in the Patrick County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.
The other land parcel – more than 91 acres in the Mayo River District, is owned by Five Rock Cidery, LLC, a Virginia Limited Liability Company with a post office box in Belleview, FL, according to land records.
Fairy Stone Solar is not listed as a property owner, records indicate.
Bozenmayer also presented a timeline that he created from the commission’s meeting minutes.
“Essentially on January 20, 2022” it was mentioned at a commission meeting “that we needed a Solar Facilities Ordinance,” Bozenmayer said. “On March 1, we sent our Comprehensive Plan” to the supervisors, and the board adopted the plan on April 11, 2022.
Bozenmayer said the commission reviewed and revised the draft Solar Ordinance, and on August 16, 2022, the ordinance was sent to the county attorney for review.
“At that time, we had gone over the nuts and bolts of what was in the Solar Ordinance as far as setbacks, number of feet, number of trees, and what have you,” Bozenmayer said.
The board considered the proposed ordinance on September 12, with a public hearing held on September 26. Afterward, the proposal was unanimously adopted.
“At the time that we sent this solar ordinance to the county attorney, we thought we had everything in it.,” Bozenmayer said. The county attorney added the portions of applicable law cited in the proposal.
But, according to Bozenmayer, there are issues with the sections that are cited, and revisions are needed.
Planning Commission Revisits Issue
At a special called meeting on March 1, Larry Cowley, chairman of the commission, said he was told during a recent conversation with the county attorney, “that Fairy Stone Solar had a document that basically gave them permission to go ahead” and locate in the county.
Further, he learned the county attorney was involved because the company was “trying to add additional acreage under that same permission,” Cowley said.
Bozenmayer wondered whether a change in the language, from solar to renewable energy facilities, would cover other forms of renewable energies, such as wind farms.
“If we take time to find that all out, we give Fairy Stone Solar time to do what they’re doing,” Cowley said. “My only thought is apparently time is of the essence.”
Bozenmayer said he is concerned that even if the commission passes an amendment, Fairy Stone may be allowed to proceed because of the sections of codes (laws) cited in its initial application.
“These people seem to have spent a lot more time looking up these applicable codes than we have,” while local officials are “really functioning with one eye closed here,” Bozenmayer said, adding that he believes the actions of the commission and the supervisors were the best possible, based on the information each had at the time.
“Then, person one and person two proceeded to pour gasoline on this and set it on fire and plop it back in our laps,” he said.
Kurt Bozenmayer, far left, and other members of the Patrick County Planning Commission, vote to hold a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan at 6 p.m. on March 21 in Patrick & Henry Community College’s (P&HCC’s) Community Room – Stuart site.