Slightly more than 100 people gathered at Ironbridge Church last week to learn more about Torch Clean Energy’s proposal for the Shoosmith megasite in southern Chesterfield County.
Torch would like to build a solar farm and entice a data center provider to the 1,677-acre property – 1,540 acres which are owned by the Shoosmith Family (Thomas Co.) – located south of the intersection of Bradley Bridge and Branders Bridge roads. The Boulder, Colo., company has requested to rezone the property from R-12 and C-4 to agricultural.
Tuesday night, June 25, Torch president Jon Kilberg and project manager Sara Born talked to an audience for about two hours.
They said the $1.5 billion to $3 billion investment would return $9 million or more in tax revenue, making it one of the top two or three taxpayers in the county.
Kilberg said that Torch has been in discussions with “several parties” in regard to the data center. “I don’t think we’ve picked one yet,” he said, adding that whichever one is chosen is “likely one you’ve heard of. I don’t think anyone is interested in this site if a data center isn’t possible.”
Torch would install about 300,000 aluminum solar panels on the property. The panels absorb heat and do not reflect it, Born said. “From the air, [the panels] look like water,” she said.
Kilberg said that 85 percent of the world’s supply of solar panels comes from China, but noted that “Canadian Solar has been a supplier to our projects in the past.”
He noted that a wastewater pumping station would take effluent – treated graywater – for use in cooling at the data center.
The company is currently looking at using an old CSX railroad right-of-way access off Bradley Bridge Road on the northeast side of the property for construction access, but Born said that steep slopes there could hinder that. One location on the northwest side of the property off Bradley Bridge Road could be used as an access for maintenance workers, along with three options off Branders Bridge Road. Ultimately, the company would use only two access points for maintenance, Born said.
Most of the time, only three to five maintenance workers would be on the property, while the data center could house 50 to 100 employees. County Planning Commissioner Gib Sloan said that data center would have 60 employees.
Some 300 to 400 employees would be on-site during construction, which Born said the company would like to start in one to two years.
Kilberg said there are four potential sites on the property – which the company would purchase – that could be used for the data center. “We’re working with the county trying to figure out which of the four,” he said, noting that Dominion – which has a power line that runs through the property – has a say in regard to where the data center would be located.
“Our intention is to be good neighbors for an extended period of time,” Kilberg said, adding that the company still owns all of the properties where it has built projects since it started in late 2006.
He noted that the county asked for a 30-foot-wide conservation easement to surround the property. The easement would include a 10-foot-wide trail.
Born said the company plans to plant native grasses that would act as pollinators for bees. “We’re going to keep every tree that we can,” she said.
Born said the cost of solar is coming down. “It’s starting to make economic sense,” she said. “Five or 10 years ago, we wouldn’t be considering this.”
“Solar has gotten 10 times less expensive in the last 15 years,” Kilberg said.
In response to a question about any tax incentives the company has been offered by the county, Kilberg said the company has only used a federal income tax credit that’s been around for over 20 years.
The solar farm would have a life of 35 years, he said, noting that the company would have a 25-year contract to sell all of its output to Dominion Virginia Power.
“We are at a sea change at how power gets generated in this country,” Kilberg said. “Coal and nuclear have become expensive and renewals have become more and more competitive.” He added that wind and solar only produce 2 to 3 percent of the power in the United States, but said, “It’s going to grow.”
The company would be required to pay the county a decommissioning bond as part of the site plan process, local land use attorney Brennen Keene said, noting that county Planning Department staff would set the amount.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to meet with Torch officials at 10 a.m. Monday, July 8, Sloan said. The public can attend that meeting but cannot comment. The Commission will consider the rezoning proposal at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 16.