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Natural gas, solar projects set for public hearing

Surry County’s Planning Commission will hold public hearings Sept. 27 on two proposed renewable energy projects.

Align RNG, a joint venture of Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods to turn methane from hog manure into pipeline-quality renewable natural gas, has proposed building a regional facility off Route 31 at Surry’s border with Sussex County.

The plant would process raw biogas from multiple farms and employ two workers in Surry County, according to a county staff report.

The participating farms would be located in Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. As the report explains, when hog manure breaks down, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas. This gas can be captured rather than released into the atmosphere through the use of covered lagoons and an anaerobic digester.

The project, if approved, may become the first facility of its kind in Virginia as there are “no projects for comparison within the state,” according to the staff report. The proposed facility would be the end destination for 62 miles of high-density polyethylene piping carrying raw biogas from the participating farms.

The resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking more than 22,000 vehicles off the road, according to the proposal’s projections – with the resulting natural gas sufficient to supply 2,823 homes.

According to an economic and fiscal impact report prepared for Dominion, construction would last through 2022, with the resulting operations bringing just over $243,000 per year in tax revenue to Surry County, starting in 2023.

TRC Environmental Corporation has filed for a conditional use permit on behalf of Align. According to the county’s staff report on the matter, the roughly 22.8-acre parcel is currently zoned rural agricultural and is listed in Surry County’s comprehensive plan as suitable for rural preservation.

Impacts to wetlands are proposed during construction, the report states, but will be restored to pre-construction conditions once the building of the substation is complete. There may also be odor or fumes coming from the site during construction but the applicant, according to the staff report, states there will be no odors emitted once construction is complete.

The second public hearing concerns Charlottesville-based Hexagon Energy LLC’s proposal to construct a 150-megawatt solar farm at the intersections of Routes 10 and 40 in the Spring Grove area.

The Loblolly Solar project, as it is named, is proposed to be sited on approximately 900 acres of a 2,403-acre contiguous tract of timberland – and projected to bring $16 million in taxes for the county over the project’s 40-year lifespan. The applicant has requested four approvals for the project: a comprehensive plan amendment, a rezoning, a conditional use permit and a resolution declaring the proposal “substantially in accord” with the amended comprehensive plan.

According to Hexagon’s application, Loblolly Solar will use passive photovoltaic solar cells to generate electricity that will be fed into Dominion Energy’s power grid and inverters to convert the direct current into alternating current. These consist of common materials including glass, polymer, aluminum, copper and silicon semiconductor material. PV panels function as a solid state, inert crystal composed of non-toxic materials and are most similar to a pane of glass, The application states, with “no chemicals, fluids, or materials that are capable of entering the environment.”

The application further states that the solar panels will be contained within five separate fenced enclosures with wildlife corridors between them, and minimum 100-foot setbacks from property lines and delineated wetlands. The company further proposes a 250-foot setback from all roadways and a 500-foot setback from all residences.