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Solar farm project clears hurdle in Raleigh County Commission

UPDATE: The construction of a 90-million dollar solar farm cleared a major hurdle in the Raleigh County Commission on Tuesday.

In a two-to-one vote, commissioners voted to move forward on a resolution with Raleigh Solar, a Colorado-based company which promises to bring 100 jobs in the first year of the project and six jobs for the next twenty years after that.

The resolution specifically establishes a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the company.

"What this means to the county is over twenty years Raleigh Solar has agreed to pay the county two million dollars," said Commission Pres. Dave Tolliver, who voted in favor of the resolution.

Commissioner Linda K. Epling voted against the resolution.

"I'm not against the panels at all. But with the payment in lieu of taxes, I think people should pay their own taxes."

Tolliver said 1.6 million of the money will go to the Raleigh County Board of Education.

"It was a tough decision. I went back and forth on it, but I think it was the right decision for the Board of Education if they approve it."

Raleigh County Commissioner Ron Hedrick was also on the fence right up to the vote, ultimately voting in favor. He was swayed by a state law requiring 25 percent of the state's energy sources to come from alternative sources.

"They're going to come. It's a matter of when. If we can take it and use it to our advantage to help bring other businesses here, I think it's worth it."

The resolution is only a starting point. While the project will likely be approved by the Raleigh County Board of Education, commissioners said the project may face another fight in the Zoning Commission.

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GRANDVIEW, W.Va. (WVVA) A proposal for a new solar farm is sparking a fierce debate in Raleigh County.

Proponents of the 90 million project say it will bring a hundred jobs to the area in the first year and around six after that. But those with deep concerns over the number of coal jobs that could be lost are threatening to take their argument to the picket line.

Roger Hunter, an attorney for Raleigh Solar, attempted to sell the idea to Raleigh County commissioners on Tuesday. The area off of the Grandview exit was chosen due to its high altitude and access to sunlight.

"It would diversify the economy in a positive way. It would not have any affect on local utility rates. The burden on infrastructure is minor compared to the amount of investment involved."

While Hunter said the proposed solar plant would bring 40 million in revenue to the county, Doug Epling of Beckley said the county needs to take a stand for coal and say no.

At Tuesday's commission meeting, several people raised concerns over who would be left to pick up the tab to dismantle the project once it runs its course over the next few decades.

"This is going to decimate our coal mines -- not just a few coal mines, but several," said Epling.

As for questions over whether the plant would increase utility rates for Raleigh County, the company's attorneys said the plan is provide energy for customers along the East Coast -- not Raleigh County specifically.

Raleigh County Commission Pres. Dave Tolliver said it is not a done deal yet. The agreement that would simply say the county is open to being selected as the site. Raleigh Solar's attorneys said they are also looking at other sites, including in Virginia, with more favorable tax incentives.

"It's a payment in lieu of taxes deal. So we have to figure out whether we're going to lose money over the next 15 to 20 years or make it," said Tolliver.

A decision is expected by the Raleigh County Commission by next Tuesday.

Annie Moore

Multimedia Journalist

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