If a rezoning application is approved by county officials, some 900 acres in the Bermuda District could become a solar farm with an estimated 300,000 solar panels in about three years.
Torch Clean Energy of Boulder, Colo., recently submitted the application to the Chesterfield County Planning Department and has options to purchase 1,677 acres, including 1,540 from the Shoosmith family (Thomas Co.) and 137 from the estate of Joseph Hotz, according to Brennen Keene, a local land use attorney.
The solar farm – which is being called the Chester Solar Technology Park – would utilize about 900 acres, Keene said, noting that some of the land is unusable due its slope and because of wetlands and a lake that exist on the property.
Torch has plans to attract a data center to the property as well, although a separate company would buy 300 acres or so for that endeavor, Torch officials said.
Torch’s rezoning application requests conditional use permits for a solar facility and data center along with a water tank and a wastewater pump station, the latter two of which would be used for the data center.
The rezoning seeks to convert R-12- and C-4-zoned land to agricultural, Keene said, noting the land use would be less intense than that which was planned for an ill-fated industrial megasite. That Chesterfield Economic Development Authority proposal – which would have involved the county paying $15 million for the land – was pulled in May 2018 after a public outcry. The land was rezoned in 2007 for the mixed-use Branners Station proposal that never came to fruition.
Torch president Jon Kilberg said the solar farm would tie into a Dominion Energy power line located on a strip of Dominion-owned land that exists within the property boundaries. The farm would produce up to 150 megawatts of power per hour, which is enough energy to power up to 44,000 homes a year, project manager Sara Born said.
She noted that area residents and passersby on Branders Bridge and Bradley Bridge roads would largely be shielded from viewing the solar farm due to existing vegetation on the site. Keene added that a solar ordinance –which the Chesterfield Board of Supervisors approved May 22 – includes landscaping requirements for solar farms, but that Torch would provide supplemental vegetation if necessary.
By approving the ordinance, the county was reacting to what’s happening in other places, Keene said.
The company is currently studying where an entrance to the solar farm would be located, Born said.
She noted that no county tax dollars would be used in the project, and no road improvements would be required.
The solar farm would have a life of 35 years, Kilberg said, noting Torch has been involved in more than 10 such projects since its inception in late 2006.
Torch has agreed to set aside an area along Branders Bridge Road to accommodate a trail that is planned from Ashland to Petersburg, Keene said.
Born estimated that construction would take nine to 12 months. The company envisions a groundbreaking in 2022 with the solar farm up and running by late 2022 or early 2023.
Kilberg, a Virginia native, said that the company would install the racking on which the solar panels would be attached between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. over a three week period.
A community meeting will be scheduled in the latter half of June, Keene said.