Editorial – A stinging defeat for southern IW residents

Published 6:30 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

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Southern Isle of Wight County got a rude reminder of its political clout – or lack thereof – when three county supervisors who mostly represent the northern, more populous end of the county approved the controversial Carver solar farm, which will straddle Route 460, the gateway to our county for thousands of motorists.

Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty, who represents Carrollton, provided the decisive vote in a 3-2 decision to reverse course some six months after he joined with Joel Acree and Don Rosie to temporarily defeat the unpopular project.

Because technically there was not a vote to deny the permit – but instead a vote to reject a motion to approve it – the matter remained alive.

Outgoing Supervisor Dick Grice, who represents a Smithfield-centric district on the board, engaged in some one-man negotiations to squeeze the Carver solar developer for bigger cash payments to the county. Bigger dollars for county coffers apparently were enough justification for Grice, McCarty and Rudolph Jefferson to push through a project their colleagues from the southern end of the county adamantly opposed, reflecting widespread citizen sentiment there.

It should be noted that nothing requires a supervisor, when making a zoning-related decision for land outside his political subdivision, to consider the preference of a colleague who represents the area in question. However, in an ideal world, it should count for something.

Lord knows, supervisors from the southern end of the county have provided critical votes over the years for pet projects of Smithfield and Carrollton leaders when, truth be known, the good folks of Carrsville and Windsor would have preferred they didn’t.

The board, by approving the Carver project, undercut the work of the county’s new Energy Task Force, which is studying the use of farmland for solar and other energy projects during an era when they are proliferating in rural Virginia. Route 460 between Windsor and Zuni is the highest-profile location yet for the unsightly large-scale solar farms, eight of which have been approved, with five more applications pending.

The task force consists of some very bright people who should be given time to assess the issue and make recommendations that will guide current and future elected leadership to sound decisions. The group’s work will be informed by research at Virginia Tech and elsewhere on the long-range benefits and consequences of solar farms and other big energy projects.   

With Carver’s approval, the eight approved solar farms will occupy a cumulative 2,619 acres, or 1.8% of the county’s prime farm soils. Earlier this year, the supervisors voted to set a near-moratorium on solar farms by capping the cumulative acreage at 2% of the county’s prime farmland.

Supervisors have unnecessarily pushed Isle of Wight to the brink of that limit.