Isle of Wight County approves 2% cap on solar farm acreage

Published 4:45 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

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Isle of Wight County supervisors voted 4-1 on May 18 to approve a near moratorium on solar farms.

The adopted ordinance limits the cumulative acreage of existing and proposed solar farms to 2% of the county’s “prime” farm soils, or a maximum of 2,446 acres.

According to county data and the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture, 1,759 acres, or roughly 72% of the maximum, are already taken up by six approved solar farms, though only one is operational. The supervisors are set to vote in June on the proposed Prairie solar farm along Longview Drive, which would be the county’s seventh if approved.

Energix Renewables, the Arlington-based developer of the Prairie project, has proposed a 152-acre project site, the entirely of which would be located on prime farmland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “prime” soils as land with the “best combination of physical and chemical characteristics” for growing crops.

Supervisor Don Rosie cast the dissenting vote, stating he was uncomfortable approving such an ordinance when the seven-member “energy task force” the supervisors formed in November had yet to issue its recommendations.

As of March, the supervisors had appointed four of the seven members: one from each of the county’s five voting districts except for the Carrsville-area District 5, which Rosie represents. In April, the supervisors appointed Smithfield Town Councilman Mike Smith to one of the two at-large seats on the task force, intending the second for someone from Windsor’s Town Council.

Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty, however, contended, “We’ve got to have a starting point.”

According to Isle of Wight Community Development Director Amy Ring, the 2% cap would not apply to any project that’s submitted a conditional use permit application prior to the date of the ordinance’s adoption.

Over a four-week period spanning March and April, the county received applications for four new solar farms, the largest of which calls for a project site covering more than 1,000 acres.

Supervisors in neighboring Surry County voted in April to approve an amendment to Surry’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan that limits utility-scale solar farms to 10% of the county’s developable land.