Surry supervisors table Bacon’s Castle solar farm

Published 6:32 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Surry County supervisors voted 3-1 on March 3 to delay their decision for at least a month on whether to allow a solar farm to be built across the street from the 17th century Bacon’s Castle homestead.

The vote to table the matter followed a public hearing, which drew a mix of supporters and opponents of the project.

Pine Gate Renewables, an Asheville, North Carolina-based company, proposes to construct the 20-megawatt solar farm — under the name Surry Solar Center LLC — on a 220-acre tract at Route 10 and Bacon’s Castle Trail.

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The facility would be set back 420 feet from Bacon’s Castle Baptist Church, 265 feet from Bacon’s Castle Trail and 168 feet from Hog Island Road. The developer has also agreed to add a 100-foot buffer of trees at least 8 feet tall to further shield the facility from view of the Bacon’s Castle homestead.

The solar farm would occupy roughly 196 acres of the rural, agricultural-zoned parcel. It’s projected to bring roughly $2.6 million in revenue to the county over its 40-year lifespan. Per the proposed revenue sharing and siting agreements, the county would receive a $100,000 cash payment prior to the solar farm’s becoming operational, plus another $1,400 per megawatt generated.

The per-megawatt payment would increase by 10% every five years. The county also anticipates receiving roughly $800,000 in real estate taxes over the project’s 40-year lifespan, compared to the $164,000 the county receives for the land currently.

Surry Solar has requested a comprehensive plan amendment, rezoning and a conditional use permit.

Ten people spoke during the hearing, two in support of the project and eight against it.

“We’re right there at a national treasure that’s in our county, and I think that’s our duty as a county to protect it,” said Diane Cheek, a member of the county’s Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission had recommended against the project at its Jan. 24 meeting after the commissioners deemed it to be in conflict with Surry’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan and an ordinance Surry’s supervisors adopted in 2018. The plan states solar facilities should “not visually impact scenic and cultural resources,” while the ordinance further requires solar farms to “avoid important historic, archaeological or cultural sites.”

“I’m not totally against solar panels, but pay your fair share,” said Eddie Brock, another Planning Commission member, and its chairman.

Brock, who lives roughly four miles from Dominion Energy’s nuclear Surry Power Station, said the county receives more than $20,000 per megawatt generated, compared to the $1,400 per megawatt the Surry Solar Center has offered.

Paul Epps, son of the landowner who wants to lease his property for the solar farm, voiced support for the project, as did county resident Sam Edwards, who argued the investment from the project could stave off future tax increases.

“As long as Surry County keeps turning down economic development projects like this, current citizens will continue to pay for the rising costs of government,” Edwards said.

According to Greg Davis, an attorney representing Pine Gate, the company conducted an archaeological survey of the parcel after the Planning Commission’s vote, which found no historically significant artifacts.

Dendron District Supervisor Michael Drewry, Claremont District Supervisor Robert Elliott and Carsley District Supervisor Ronald Howell Jr. voted in favor of tabling the matter. Board Chairwoman Judy Lyttle, who represents the Bacon’s Castle District, was the dissenting vote. Surry District Supervisor Timothy Calhoun abstained, citing his employment with Dominion Energy.