IW planners favor solar farm

Published 7:39 pm Friday, February 11, 2022

Isle of Wight County’s Planning Commission voted 4-3 on Jan. 25 in favor of allowing a 20-acre solar farm along the south side of Orbit Road.

Nuby Run Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Charlottesville-based Hexagon Energy, has applied for a conditional use permit on behalf of landowner Robert Stagg for a proposed 2-megawatt facility.

Should Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors also vote in favor of granting the requested permit, Nuby Run would become the sixth utility-scale solar farm to be approved in the county — and the smallest.

According to Hexagon Development Manager Buzz Becker, the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act in 2020, which mandates the state transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050, has spurred interest among renewable energy companies to partner with landowners in developing solar farms.

“Some of that transition will be these smaller projects,” Becker said.

The proposed Nuby run solar farm would be located roughly three miles south of the Isle of Wight County Courthouse, and one mile away from the 20-megawatt, 193-acre Solidago solar farm the Board of Supervisors approved in 2018.

The idea behind smaller solar farms like Nuby Run, Becker explained, is to avoid limiting the resulting investments to Virginia’s largest landowners, and allow more people — and localities — to partake. Currently, the land brings the county just over $210 per year in tax revenue, but with the addition of the proposed solar panels, the annual tax revenue would rise to $2,550 — or $76,500 over the project’s estimated 30-year lifespan.

The requested permit includes an application to withdraw 20 acres from the Courthouse Agricultural/Forestal District.

Agricultural and forestal districts are voluntary creations of county governments that allow landowners special land use rates when their properties are assessed for real estate taxes in exchange for a pledge to keep their land in agriculture, forestry or open space use for a set number of years, usually 10.

The dissenting votes came from commissioners Jennifer Boykin, George Rawls and Cynthia Taylor. Commissioners Thomas Duerig and Edward Hulick were absent. Prior to the vote, the commissioners held a public hearing on the matter, which drew two speakers in opposition.

“My gut feeling says solar is not the answer … somewhere, Isle of Wight County needs to stop,” said Debbie Symansky, who called for a “moratorium” on new solar projects.

David Tucker then spoke on the county’s 20-megawatt, 180-acre Woodland solar farm that went online in 2017. It’s presently the only operational solar farm in the county.

Woodland went four years without a vegetative buffer to hide the facility, and at one time had a black tarp on the surrounding fence, he said.

“It’s giving solar energy and renewable energy a black eye,” Tucker said.

Stagg, however, called the proposed solar farm on his family’s multi-generational land “another type of farm.”

“I’ll get a yearly harvest of electricity,” Stagg said.

Stagg’s entire parcel measures 117 acres, but most will remain in either agricultural or forestal use. Roughly 6-1/2 acres of trees will need to be cut to reduce shading of the solar panels.

In addition to Solidago and Woodland, the county approved the 55-megawatt Ho-Fel solar farm near International Paper’s Franklin mill and the 85-megawatt Windsor PV-1 farm near the town of Windsor in 2019, and a 240-megawatt, 1,750-acre farm spanning Isle of Wight and Surry counties’ border in 2021.