Moonlight solar farm hearing set for March 21

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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Isle of Wight County supervisors will hold a public hearing and potentially vote March 21 on an application for a new 44-megawatt solar farm, according to a public notice published in the March 13 edition of The Smithfield Times. 

The meeting is to begin at 6 p.m.

Palladium Energy, the Moonlight Solar LLC’s Jacksonville, Florida-based developer, asked Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission in November to defer voting on the 523-acre project at Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads to give the company additional time to mitigate multiple weaknesses identified in a report by county staff, among them its proximity to the in-progress 1,750-acre Cavalier solar farm spanning the Isle of Wight-Surry county line. The commissioners, however, didn’t heed Palladium’s requests and voted unanimously on Nov. 28 to recommend denial of Palladium’s requested conditional use permit.

According to county officials, Palladium again requested following the vote that the matter be postponed. As a result, it wasn’t on the supervisors’ agenda for December, January or February.

In addition to the Moonlight solar farm’s half-mile distance from the 2021-approved Cavalier project, the county’s November report took issue with Palladium’s plan to use Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads for construction access, contending both roads have minimal shoulders and deep ditches that would be unsafe for tractor-trailers hauling solar panels. The report further contended the project would impact 36 acres of “ecological cores,” or wildlife habitats, of “high importance,” and would initially be visible from historic homes, including the early 19th century Carroll Plantation house adjacent to the proposed site.  

Palladium and county officials estimated in November that the project would bring in $5.4 million in tax revenue over its estimated 40-year lifespan, $1.1 million of which would be paid to the county prior to the start of construction per the terms of a proposed siting agreement. The projected revenue would increase to $6.1 million over 40 years if the county approves a revenue-sharing agreement in lieu of charging machinery and tools taxes.

County officials estimate the project would place panels on 274 acres of prime farmland. The county last year amended its zoning ordinance to cap the amount of prime farmland devoted to solar at 2%, or 2,446 acres. Roughly 2,226 acres, or 91% of the stated maximum, already contain or are slated for panels tied to nine solar farms the county has approved since 2015. According to county officials, the supervisors have the option of disregarding the 2% limit.

Only two of Isle of Wight’s nine approved solar farms are presently active. The newest, a 20-megawatt, 2018-approved solar farm known as Solidago, began generating electricity in August on 193 acres near the county courthouse.