The West Virginia Public Service Commission has received an application to build Jefferson County’s first solar farm facility.
Proposed by a company called Wild Hill Solar, the $125 million facility would be located on 795 acres of farmland bordering Kabletown Road near Mount Hammond Lane, just north of Kabletown and about 3 miles south of Charles Town.
Wild Hill Solar is a San Diego, California subsidiary of EDF Renewables Development, a French-owned firm with an office in Minneapolis that internationally develops, builds and operates solar-electric generating facilities.
According to documents Wild Hill representatives or consultants filed with the PSC on Nov. 6, the site selected for the proposed solar farm will be mostly filled with solar panel arrays that will generate about 220,000 megawatts of electrical power per day. The facility would feed solar-generated electricity into a Potomac Edition electrical transmission line crossing the property.
“The Project has been sited in an agricultural area in an effort to reduce the need for land clearing and minimize the need for typical construction processes such as surface grading and soil compaction,” wrote a representative with Potesta & Associates of Charleston, a consultant hired to assist Wild Hill with its solar farm project in Kabletown.
Plans call for construction to begin on the project during the middle of next year and conclude during the third quarter of 2022. Current plans call for the project to operate for as long as 30 years, after which the project’s solar arrays could be decommissioned.
Wild Hill estimates the project’s construction would generate $134 million in “direct, indirect and induced economic impacts in the Jefferson County area.”
Environmental and historical site reviews are underway by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the State Historic Preservation Office. No “deep testing” of the project site’s land will be necessary, according to a Wild Hill consultant.
“As the project is not anticipated to require deep excavation, it is assured that the project will not have the potential for impacts to deeply buried archaeological sites or materials,” one consultant’s report reads.
Within two miles of the project are 56 archeological sites and 10 structures of cultural significance identified by the National Register of Historic Places.
Two county residents have filed letters with the PSC supporting the solar farm project. Jean Zigler Kotch, a resident of Roper North Fork Road who is part of a farming family living near the Kabletown site for the proposed solar farm, called some opposition that arose earlier this year over whether to open Jefferson County to solar farms “selfish” and shortsighted.
“As the solar community grows, more and more states are welcoming the additional power source,” she wrote. “People want clean energy but are very selfish in where they want to protest. … Solar is allowing West Virginia to be on the cutting edge of clean energy.”
Thirteen county residents have filed letters with the PSC highlighting concerns. Most of those residents urged the PSC to hold a public hearing on Wild Hill’s project application.
“Public comment and review must be allowed to educate the public about any large scale industry that wants to occupy our county and will affect our population, health and the public’s well being,” wrote Laura Levesque of Charles Town. “Do not waive the right of the community to be fully educated nor the agency’s responsibilities towards the public to do the strictest due diligence, to uphold the welfare of our community.”
About 16 residents spoke before the county commission during a public hearing in September over the solar farm zoning amendment. A few farmers have supported the facilities as a way to diversify their fluctuating revenues, providing financial security that could help prevent farmland from becoming housing developments. However, a few residents voiced concerns about the possible long-term safety of solar farms and the visual impact on open spaces from filling fields with arrays.
About 75 percent of the county’s current open land could technically be subject to development as solar farms under the zoning ordinance, according to county zoning officials. However, a representative of EDF Renewables Development said earlier that the county has a considerably limited amount of land that could accommodate solar farms, which need to be within a half-mile of electrical utility substations or power lines to be cost-effective.
Solar farms also need about 500 to 800 acres to spread their panels to be cost-effective, the representative said.