Surry surveying residents on energy projects

Published 1:43 pm Thursday, April 21, 2022

With two pending solar farm applications and a proposed natural gas project on the horizon, Surry County plans to revisit its comprehensive plan relative to electricity-generating facilities.

Surry’s Planning Commission has opted to start the process by gathering public input. Through May 16, residents will have the opportunity to complete what the county has termed an “energy project survey.”

The nine-question survey is available at

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Surry County last revised its comprehensive plan in 2020, adopting a 142-page document intended to guide land-use decisions through 2040. The plan currently states solar farms should be sited as close to existing electric transmission lines as possible, avoid or minimize the impact to prime farmland, be screened from residential areas and Routes 10 and 31, and not visually impact scenic or cultural resources.

Currently, there are two adjacent solar farms in the county known as Spring Grove Solar LLC and Colonial Trail West, respectively. Both were approved in 2018 and span nearly 4,000 acres along Swann’s Point, Beaverdam and Hollybush roads. They generate a combined 400 megawatts.

According to Horace Wade III, the county’s director of planning and community development, a portion of the site is operational and another portion is still under construction.

Another known as Cavalier Solar is set to begin construction this year. The 240-megawatt Cavalier project, which Surry’s and Isle of Wight County’s Board of Supervisors each approved last year, is to span 1,750 acres along the county border.

An application by Pine Gate Renewables, an Asheville, North Carolina-based company, for the 20-megawatt Surry Solar Center is awaiting approval. The project, which would become the county’s fourth solar farm if approved, would be located on 220 acres across the street from the 17th century Bacon’s Castle homestead.

The Planning Commission voted the project down in January, but the Board of Supervisors, which tabled the matter in March, has the final say.

A 150-megawatt solar farm named Loblolly Solar is also proposed for roughly 900 acres at the intersection of Routes 10 and 40 in the Spring Grove community. Charlottesville-based Hexagon Energy submitted its plans to the county in 2020, but has revised them four times to date. 

The Planning Commission has twice voted the project down, and the Board of Supervisors has scheduled a June 2 public hearing on the matter.

As for natural gas, the county’s current comprehensive plan states it’s “not widely available in Surry.”

Align RNG, a joint venture of Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods, has proposed a regional facility off Route 31 that would turn methane from hog manure into pipeline-quality natural gas.

The facility would be located on a 22.8-acre parcel at Surry’s border with Sussex County. Surry’s Planning Commission gave the project a favorable recommendation in November over the objection of nearby residents who took issue with the proposed facility’s sulfur emissions. Surrey’s Board of Supervisors is slated to hold its own public hearing on the project June 2, and potentially vote on the matter that same evening.

The site would serve as a hub for participating Smithfield Foods farms in Sussex, Surry, Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. There, the collected gas would pass through membranes to remove hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide, leaving a 99% pure product. But the extracted carbon dioxide would be re-released, and some of the extracted hydrogen sulfide would be turned into sulfur dioxide, and also be re-released.

Surry is also currently home to a nuclear power plant that’s been operating since the early 1970s. It generates about 15% of the electricity Dominion Energy’s customers in Virginia and North Carolina receive, employs about 900 people, and provides more than half the county government’s annual income through public service corporation taxes. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year approved Dominion’s request to continue operating the plant into the 2050s.