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IW delays decision on solar farm

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors won’t vote until May 20 on a proposed 240-megawatt solar farm that would span 1,750 acres across Isle of Wight and Surry counties.

Roughly 360 acres will be on Isle of Wight’s side of the county line, located on six parcels along Burwells Bay Road, Jones Drive, Mill Swamp Road and Pons Road, all of which are currently zoned for rural agricultural conservation.

The developer, Cavalier Solar, has applied for a conditional use permit for those six parcels, which includes a request from the landowners to withdraw their properties from Isle of Wight’s Moonlight Agricultural/Forestal District.

Agricultural and forestal districts are voluntary creations of county governments that allow landowners special land use rates when their properties are assessed for real estate taxes in exchange for a pledge to keep their land in agriculture, forestry or open space use for a set number of years, usually 10.

Surry’s Board of Supervisors has scheduled its final vote on the matter for May 6. Ben Saunders, a representative of Cavalier’s parent company, sPower, said Isle of Wight’s portion — if approved — will be built regardless of the outcome of the Surry vote.

Isle of Wight’s public hearing on the matter, held April 15, drew mostly favorable reactions.

Smithfield resident Earl Mike Adams, who once lived in Germany, said he hasn’t noticed any visible solar panels in Isle of Wight County yet.

“We saw lots and lots of them throughout Europe … I think it might be worth a try,” he said.

But Milton James, who’s lived on Mill Swamp Road since 1964, is concerned about the effect the panels will have on local wildlife and the country lifestyle he and his neighbors enjoy.

“Once you take this property and put these solar panels on it, that habitat is destroyed forever,” he said. “Right now part of the country life is seeing your deer, your wild turkeys, your geese come in when they migrate, ducks on the pond, all these things will be gone.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Dick Grice then asked for additional information from the company regarding any “contributions or donations to individuals and entities in Surry and Isle of Wight” counties sPower had made, and in what amount.

According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, the company has offered contributions to several local nonprofit organizations.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree then suggested the county “hit the brakes and get a grasp on what we’re going to do” with regards to county-wide standards for solar farms.

“I believe in landowners’ rights, very much so, and I think there’s no better example than with farmers, and that’s who this typically affects,” Acree said.

But if the county continues to apply conditions to individual permits for solar farms piecemeal, there may come a day when the current or future Board of Supervisors decides “no more solar farms, that we’ve got plenty,” he said.

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty made the motion to table the matter, which passed unanimously.