Solar farm, data center approved for Chesterfield ‘megasite’

Sep 30, 2019 06:16 PM ET
Solar farm, data center approved for Chesterfield ‘megasite’
The site of two controversial development proposals that never came to pass is now slated to be filled with solar panels and computing storage buildings.

Four months after the project was pitched, Chesterfield County supervisors last week unanimously approved a plan to develop a solar farm and data center complex on 1,500 acres of the nearly 1,700-acre tract previously proposed for the so-called “Matoaca Mega Site.”

While a few county residents who spoke in a public hearing expressed concerns about the project’s impacts on nearby homes and wildlife habitat, the level of local opposition that last year put a stop to the megasite proposal was not seen this go-round. The plan by Colorado-based Torch Clean Energy was more warmly received by observers in general.

“This proposal before us now looks more attractive than those other two projects, for sure,” said Mike Uzel, who led a citizens group called Bermuda Advocates for Responsible Development in opposing the industrial megasite proposal, which followed a previously approved zoning for a mixed-use development consisting of 5,000 homes that never went forward.

Torch plans to fill about 500 acres of the site with a solar farm that would generate 150 megawatts to primarily power an adjoining data center or centers, which would be built on about 300 acres and employ about 100 workers. A user or users for the data center component have yet to be identified.

A $2B investment

Coined “Chester Solar Technology Park,” the development would represent a $2 billion investment in the site, with as many as four data centers with a total building footprint of about 1 million square feet, along with supporting infrastructure including a power substation and switchyard, an above-ground water storage tank and a sewage pumping station.

An east-west connector road previously proposed for the megasite is not included in Torch’s plan. The county’s approval allows the site to be used as a solar farm for about 35 years, after which the use would need to be renewed or, if the solar farm is decommissioned, right-of-way dedication for the road then could begin.

The project does set aside a 30-foot easement around the perimeter of the property for a trail that would be built when the data center is developed. A conservation area around a lake on the property is also planned.

The plan also calls for 300-foot setbacks between the data centers and roads, and a 400-foot setback for any backup power supply for the center – well above the 100-foot setback required by county ordinance.

Torch worked with McGuireWoods attorney Brennen Keene on its rezoning application and presentations to the county. Timmons Group handled engineering work.

Another solar project

As that project secured approval, another proposal involving solar is making its way through Chesterfield’s development review process.

Cypress Creek Renewables, a company based in California, is proposing a solar farm on nearly 330 acres southeast of Eppes Falls and River roads in the county’s Winterpock area. The Chesterfield Planning Commission this month voted in favor of the project, which goes to supervisors at their Oct. 23 meeting.

Earlier this year, Chesterfield adopted an ordinance specific to solar facilities, addressing such things as locations of facilities and transmission lines, site layout and access, operation and design, health and safety, construction activities and decommissioning.

Solar farms have been sprouting elsewhere around Richmond in recent years. In 2017, Henrico County approved a 71,000-panel farm on 93 acres of a 230-acre parcel along Meadow Road. Urban Grid, a solar company based in Maryland, was behind that project.

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