Neighbors say it’s not the solar panels, but the fence

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, August 29, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Fencing and screening were the main concerns voiced about a second solar farm that was approved earlier this month by the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors.

Residents who spoke at the Aug. 16 public hearing, as well as Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree, referenced the existing solar farm in the Longview area, which has a chain link fence wrapped with a black cloth as a screening device. 

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“It looks like a prison,” said Sabrina Wilcox, who lives on Red House Road, which is located near the site of the newly approved solar farm.

“The visual aspect of this is a real concern,” said Acree, who lives near the Longview solar farm. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The solar farm, which would be the second in Isle of Wight County, will be located on 160 acres at Route 258 and Redhouse and Orbit roads. A portion of the farm would be visible by motorists traveling along Courthouse Highway. 

The fencing at the Longview site was required, but the black screening material was not, said Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, adding that it was offered by the company. 

There has been some discussion on removing the black screening, he said.  

One of the Solidago applicants, Jamie Weist with Kimley-Horn, said the company will work with the county to provide fencing that insures safety but that is also aesthetically pleasing. 

Robertson said the goal is finding fencing that is consistent with the area. 

Weist said the company will provide landscaping buffer plans during the site plan review process. 

Marni Carroll with Solidago Solar said the company plans to plant pollinator plants as well as deep-rooted grasses. 

Carroll also spoke to concerns about the safety of the solar panels, describing how interior portions have been ground up and mixed with soil. Subsequent testing showed no toxicity, she said. 

Carroll said the company plans to begin construction in December 2019 and have the solar farm online by spring 2020. The solar farm has a life of about 25 years. 

Property owner and farmer Mike Doggett told the Planning Commission in July that leasing the land for a solar farm will allow him to generate income for the rest of his life, as well as allow his family to retain ownership into the future.

Doggett said he won’t be able to farm indefinitely. 

Solar farms are also an economic boon to the county.

Isle of Wight County’s other solar farm, located in the Longview area, generated $28,869 in tax revenue in 2017, compared to $2,733 a year as farmland  before it was used for energy production, according to Isle of Wight Commissioner of Revenue Gerald Gwaltney. 

The equipment at Longview, however, is exempt from state and local taxation, because the output is 20 megawatts or less, and that is based on legislation passed by the General Assembly, according to Gwaltney.  

The solar farm proposed for the Doggett property will generate about 20 megawatts of power and its equipment will also be exempt from taxation, according to state law.

The Board’s approval will allow the Doggett property to be removed from the Courthouse Agricultural and Forestal district and land use program and taxed at a higher, commercial rate, according to a staff report.  

A joint agreement between OneEnergy, Dominion Energy and PJM, the transmission operator, will distribute the power generated by the solar farm, according to Gia Clark with OneEnergy. 

Clark told the Planning Commission that once the equipment has expired, the land can revert to farmland, if that is what is desired. 

Isle of Wight and Surry counties have become popular locations for solar farms, as they have numerous transmission and distribution lines due to their proximity to the Surry nuclear power plant, as well as relatively flat land, according to Dominion.  {/mprestriction}