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Albemarle supervisors give themselves raises, OK solar array permit

Members of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors will get $339 annual raises July 1.

On Wednesday night, supervisors voted to increase their own salaries by an inflation factor of 2% from $16,972 to $17,311.

The board’s chair, currently Ned Gallaway, receives an additional annual stipend of $1,800, and the vice chair, currently Donna Price, receives a stipend of $35 for each board meeting chaired.

The maximum salary for a board member in a county with a population the size of Albemarle’s, is $13,000, but counties are allowed to adjust each year by an inflation factor of no more than 5%, according to state code.

Supervisor Liz Palmer asked under what circumstances could the board increase the salary more than the inflation rate.

County Attorney Greg Kamptner said there is a different enabling authority that would require the board prior to July 1 to adopt a salary that wouldn’t go into effect until January, but it can only be done in election years.

“With the board having three supervisors up for election in odd-numbered years, … by July 1 of that year, it could adopt a new procedure, and that increase in salary would not become effective until the next term of the supervisors in the even-numbered year came to pass,” he said.

Price said she is not “particularly pleased” with any body approving its own compensation.

“I would much prefer to see an independent analysis that evaluates a fair compensation for the board process,” she said.

The board also approved a special-use permit for Sun Tribe Development and Central Virginia Electric Cooperative to build solar panels and a battery energy storage system south of Batesville.

The companies can now move forward in the process to build an 8-megawatt solar-energy electrical generation facility and 4-megawatt battery energy storage system on about 65 acres of a 136-acre parcel about two miles south of Batesville along Craigs Store Road.

“We’re doing it to keep power affordable for our members, we’re doing this to reach the renewable goals our members have set for us and, finally, we’re doing this so that we have the tools that allow us to adapt to even keep serving our members this way in the future throughout a changing industry,” said Andrew Cotter with CVEC.

Bobby Jocz, a senior developer for Sun Tribe, said they’ve worked to address community concerns about noise and lighting, among other things. He said there will be no permanent on-site lighting and the noise-producing components make minimal noise and are required to be 100 feet back from the property line.

“The biggest concern we have identified is visibility of the project,” he said. “To address this, we will utilize the preservation of existing vegetation, as well as the establishment of new buffer where necessary, to screen the project from view of the surrounding properties as best possible. We’ll continue to evaluate the visual impact and receive community input, adding screening where needed to reduce project visibility.”

At an April meeting, the county’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project, but had concerns about grading on prime agricultural soils and included in its recommendation that the applicant make every effort to avoid removal or disturbance of prime agricultural soils.

Since that meeting, Sun Tribe provided more information about the soils and grading. Approximately 33% of the site is prime soils, and solar panels are proposed on approximately 40% of the prime soils. Of the prime soils to be disturbed, approximately 10% would require a change in elevation of greater than seven feet and 20% would require a change in elevation of less than a foot.

The grading would provide a gentle slope to allow for tracking devices on the panels and to prevent shading, the county staff report said.

Jocz said a decommissioning plan will be prepared, and that they have experience with bonds in other localities, to ensure financing for the plan, and would certainly be willing to place one here.

“I still think we should have one, if we have the authority to have one because it becomes a finger pointing LLC going down the drain issue, and once the money is gone, it’s too late,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “They’ve offered to do it. I think we should get it up front. That would be my preference if we can.”

The parcel was previously in the Batesville Agricultural District but CVEC requested it be removed in December. In March, the county’s Agricultural Forestal Advisory Committee voted 6-1 that the proposal does not conflict with the purposes of the districts.

During a public hearing, Grey McLean, founder and board chairman of the Community Climate Collaborative, said the county cannot achieve its clean energy goals by only directing solar development to abandoned coal fields and landfills.

“Well considered greenfield utility-scale solar development is absolutely necessary,” he said. “This nation and the commonwealth have a long history of wealthier communities being powered by energy production in communities of less wealth and communities of color. Exporting 100% of the cost of clean energy development to outside our county is environmental injustice. Approving Midway Solar is our opportunity to make an environmentally just choice.”

Rex Linville, with the Piedmont Environmental Council, said that when utility scale facilities are sited in rural greenfields, it should not happen “at the cost of priority conservation sites, wildlife habitat areas, water quality for productive agricultural and forested areas.”

“To the extent possible, we should attempt to avoid citing utility scale projects on properties like the one proposed for the Midway project, with slopes that can cause erosion problems, prime and significant agricultural soils that will be damaged during grading and compaction and river frontage that could be impacted with erosion and sedimentation,” he said.

The board approved the special-use permit with 17 conditions.


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