Stratford Solar project gets approval
A Whaleyville solar project to be located off of White Marsh Road has received City Council approval to shrink its footprint due to wetlands on the property.
While the size of the project will be reduced from 154 acres to 99 acres, its energy generation of 15 megawatts is expected to stay the same. Council approved an amended conditional use permit following a public hearing at its April 21 meeting.
The project’s conditional use permit, which was previously approved in 2018 and extended last year, was to take up 113 acres of the property, with the rest of the property largely remaining undisturbed.
Jay Linke, director of project development at Pine Gate Renewables, the developer of the project for Stratford Solar, said the site plan had changed in three ways he described as positives for the project, one of which is shrinking the footprint by 12% down to the 99 acres of impact due to eliminating about 17 acres of wetlands on the property from the project’s scope.
“Through our design efforts in the past several months, we have eliminated all temporary and permanent impacts to wetlands as associated with this project,” Linke said.
Linke said the impervious surface on the site has been cut from three acres to 2.5 acres.
Because the project’s size has changed by more than 5%, a major amendment was needed and it had to once again be subject to public hearings by both the Planning Commission and council.
An April 20 public meeting at the Whaleyville Recreation Center held to outline the changes to the project had just one person attend.
William Hunter, who owns the property along with his wife, Barbara Hunter, said the project has been in the works for about six years.
“I hope we have (answered) all the questions that people wanted to have answered,” William Hunter said. “I think it’s better than a housing development because there’s no water and sewage on White Marsh Road.”
Construction on the project is expected to begin in June, with the project being operational by December.
A project overview states that it would provide enough local clean energy to power about 3,985 homes each year and provide “low-cost, clean power generation to the City of Suffolk.”
Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, who was one of three council members who voted against the project in 2018, said with the reduction in the scope of the project, he would support it this time, also noting the lack of opposition at the public hearing.
Like Bennett, Councilman Lue Ward, who had also opposed the project in 2018, voted in favor of it this time.
The project would incorporate 44,199 panels and cover 100 acres of the land and have a maximum facility height of nine feet.
Stratford Solar estimates the project would create 75 jobs during construction and provide “significant” property tax revenue for the city without using public services such as police, fire or schools.
Project officials have said it would be a “quiet neighbor” that would provide zero-emissions energy, require little maintenance and would be managed by operations professionals who would visit every few months.
As part of the project, Stratford Solar says it will install “significant” natural vegetative buffering around the project, per city regulations and conditions set in the unified development ordinance. The buffering will be located at least 300 feet from the nearest panel to the nearest residence and have a 15-foot vegetated buffer to screen from public rights-of-way. It will also include a 75-foot setback around the entire project perimeter.
Stratford Solar states that the maximum noise level the project would generate once operational is below 50 decibels from 10 yards away, which it compares to typical conversation volume.