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Solar Project Questions and Answers posted in Aug '20 and Updated in Jan '21

Solar Energy Proposal

Date:    August 1, 2020 (originally, and updated as of January 18, 2021)

Overview

Abingdon has been approached by a solar project development company, TGE Virginia 195 LLC (TGE or TriGlobal) - an affiliate of TriGlobal Energy LLC based in Dallas, TX, to see if we would be interested in leasing a portion of our land to them for a solar energy generation project.  This is part of a larger project the company is working on.  TGE reports that they already have about 800 acres from other nearby property owners under lease.  The lease would be for 25 years with the possibilities of two 10-year extensions and TGE indicates that they look at these as 45 year leases.

What land? Where is it?

The parcel of land we would lease is what we refer to as “Tract B” in our Timber plan.  This is the 70 acre parcel that is behind the church.  Our current timber management plan calls for us to harvest that tract in 2021-2023.  When we harvest that tract, regardless of whether we lease the land to the solar project or not, we would leave an unharvested buffer (much like we did on the recent harvest) to create a curtain of trees which makes the harvest area more discreet.

What have we done so far?

To begin the conversation with TriGlobal, a preliminary group consisting of the Chancellor (David Meeker), the Treasurer (Hugh Bryan), one of our timber coordinators (Rob Atkinson) and the Rector had a phone conversation with two representatives from TriGlobal. These Abingdon individuals represent the legal, financial, and environmental aspects of the project.  Additionally, further conversations have taken place to help understand and clarify the project and lease contract issues.

At the August meeting the vestry will decide if we want to move ahead on this.  The question is “How do we be good stewards of what we’ve been given?”  The project, if developed, would be a different use of our land and would provide a significant income opportunity.   We could set off sufficient buffer so the project is not visible from the church or cemetery.  Additionally, we could set off buffer so that project is not visible from any public road.

Financial Impact

The financial implication of the project are significant.  If we use the land for timber farming, we could expect to realize about $150,000 over 30 years, with almost all of that coming in the last year when we harvest the timber again.  If we use the land for solar project, we would realize about $2 million in the same time frame payable as annual lease payments.  Our philosophy for proceeds from our land has been that long term assets go to long term needs, and we would follow this for any solar project income.

What are the steps of making this decision?

In our Episcopal tradition, the vestry has a great deal of authority to make decisions.  The Trustees are empowered to act as agents for the vestry or congregation and would be charged with carrying out the decision.

If the vestry decided not to move forward, the process  would have been finished and they would report to the congregation how they came to that decision. The vestry decided to move forward and have the congregation consider the issue.

How would that vote take place?

The vestry has proposed that at our meeting on January 31 we will discuss four matters. The first three will be decided at the meeting.   The vestry has called for a special meeting on February 21 at 2pm for the sole purpose of voting on the fourth issue, the solar power project.  At the January 31 meeting, we will listen to a presentation and to one another.  At the February 21 meeting, after we have listened, reflected, asked questions, and prayed, we will vote. If the weather forecast calls for greater than a 40% chance of rain, sleet or snow, the meetings will be postponed by one week (Jan 31 to Feb 7 at 2pm; Feb 21 to Feb 28 at 2pm). 

The meeting will be held in our parking lot using an FM radio signal – 107.3.  As you enter you will be given a packet of information by a person who has been vaccinated for Covid 19.  You will stay in your car for the meeting and vote by a show of ballots or by turning in a ballot.  All votes will require a simple majority for passage – unless another standard for passage is approved at the meeting itself.  If you wish to speak, you will come to the microphone.  While waiting to speak, all must be masked and spaced 6 feet apart. Our goal is that the risk to you in attending the meeting in this format is minimal.  This is essentially the same manner we gather for worship each Sunday morning at 7:45.

Who can vote?

All “Adult Communicants in Good Standing” are eligible to vote. This canonical term has several components and is meant to include those who have been active in the corporate life of the parish in the previous year. So that you have clarity about your eligibility to vote.  You should come prepared to vote if you can answer “yes” to all the following.

  • Are 16 years or older
  • Are registered in the parish. (If you are receivied a letter about the meeting, you probably are.)
  • Are baptized (at Abingdon or at any other church)
  • Have not taken up membership in another church via regular corporate worship or letter of transfer
  • Received the sacrament of Communion three times since Labor Day 2019. (This would normally be limited to the year 2020, but in light of the pandemic, this window is expanded to include the 4 months prior to 2020. We are relying upon you to make this determination.)
  • Have made a financial gift, of any amount, to the ministry of Abingdon in the year 2020. (If you are not sure if you have given, you can check with the church office in advance of the meeting.  The “courtesy statement” you should have received in mid-December might also be helpful.) When you arrive, you will be given materials for the meeting.  You will also be given your giving statement for 2020 to use in your tax records.  Your ballots will be with your giving statement.  

Even if you are not eligible to vote, you are invited to attend to listen and be involved in the life of your church family.

What would happen then?

If the vote were to proceed, then the Trustees would enter into a lease with TriGlobal.  The first phase of the lease allows us to harvest our timber, as is already planned.  After the harvest, they would install their equipment and we would begin receiving rent payments.

We have a beautiful Colonial church, won't this project disrupt the appearance of our church?

This is probably the most often asked question the vestry has received.  Part of the negotiations with TriGlobal have been to ensure that a screen of natural flora will block view of the project from the church.  The project may be seen from Featherbed lane.

What about the condition of the land?

The lease includes a provision that at the end of the lease, all equipment and footers must be removed and to leave the land in a condition reasonably similar to its original condition at the start of the lease.  By County ordinance, the company would be required to provide a bond with Gloucester County that would ensure Abingdon and all lessors would be able to restore the land.

Why is this happening now?

From a larger perspective, developers of solar energy are either building massive projects which include substations to connect to the grid or are seeking out existing substations which have capacity that can be used to connect a solar project to the grid.  In our location, the coal fired generation plant in York County called for transmission lines and other infrastructure that makes Gloucester, and our area in particular, a prime location for solar energy production.  The existing substation in Hayes has capacity for this project. There are currently several areas of the County that are being considered for solar development. One local landowner said, “there probably is not anyone with more than 50 acres in Gloucester that has not been approached by a solar developer.” TriGlobal has moved their project to the point that they believe it will become viable and they are now in the process of trying to get land under contract so they can configure a good project.  This project will use up the capacity at the Hayes substation and likely preclude any other solar projects in the area of the church.

 

Here is a map to give you an idea of where the project would be placed.