Supervisors deny permit for Moonlight solar farm

Published 9:00 am Sunday, June 23, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Isle of Wight County supervisors voted 4-0 on June 13 to reject a 44-megawatt solar farm proposed for Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads.

Supervisor Renee Rountree effectively abstained by voting “present.” She declined to comment on her vote.

The supervisors’ vote upholds two unanimous decisions in November and May by the county’s Planning Commission to recommend denial of Jacksonville-based Palladium Energy’s requested conditional use permit for Moonlight Solar, which sought to withdraw approximately 523 acres from agricultural use.

Four months after the November vote, county supervisors sent Palladium’s application back to the commission in March, asking commissioners to review a slate of changes the company had proposed in hopes of mitigating concerns by county staff that included environmental impacts.

Palladium proposed reducing from 36 acres to 8.9 the impact to “ecological cores,” or wildlife habitats of “high importance” by using larger solar panels spread over a smaller footprint to reduce the fenced acreage while maintaining the same generating capacity. Of the 523-acre project site, 231 acres or 44% would have been fenced and seen panels, down from 250 originally. The project proposed taking 242 acres of prime farmland, down from the original 274, out of agricultural use.

But it was ultimately Moonlight’s impact on traffic, and not the environment, that did the project in. The supervisors, in agreement with an Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office memorandum, contended the two rural roads are too narrow for vehicles to safely pass trucks hauling solar panels. George Edwards, the landowner under contract to lease to Palladium, had disputed the allegation at the commission’s May 28 public hearing.

Palladium, which had planned to use Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads for site access during construction, had proposed a mitigation plan calling for temporary signage along the construction route, Virginia Department of Transportation-certified flaggers and a four-week traffic study to determine the optimal travel times to minimize the chance of a truck meeting a large farm vehicle or school bus headed the opposite direction. But it wasn’t enough for Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson, who contended that while he respects landowner rights to use property as they see fit, “those roads don’t have any shoulders.”

“When I meet a car, I actually have to stop for my safety,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson also raised concerns should either road become impassable, noting Burwells Bay Road had seen flooding and downed trees during a Memorial Day weekend storm.

“I don’t see that problem going away,” Jefferson said.

Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Don Rosie, in whose district the solar farm would have been located, made the motion to deny the requested permit. Jefferson, Supervisor William McCarty and Chairman Joel Acree each joined him in voting to deny.