Surry supervisors receive mixed reaction to solar farm

Published 2:49 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2022

A proposed 150-megawatt solar farm in Spring Grove drew a mix of support and opposition at the Surry County supervisors’ June 16 public hearing on the matter.

Charlottesville-based Hexagon Energy submitted plans to the county in 2020 for the “Loblolly Solar” facility, as it’s been named, which would be sited on 900 acres of timberland at the intersection of Routes 10 and 40. Primergy Solar, a nationwide renewable energy company headquartered in Oakland, California, has since taken over as the project’s lead developer.

The solar farm is expected to bring over $16 million in taxes to Surry County over the project’s 40-year lifespan, according to the application Hexagon submitted last year. Primergy’s proposed siting agreement offers an additional $625,000 upon approval of the requested rezoning and conditional use permit — $125,000 of which would go to Surry County Public Schools for technology upgrades — as well as a $1,400 per month per megawatt payment.

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Primergy is also offering the 100 residents whose properties border the proposed solar farm a $100 per month rebate on their electric bills. According to Primergy Senior Project Manager Kathryn Meyer, the rebate program would be the first of its kind in the nation, and entail Primergy partnering with Dominion Energy and local electric cooperatives.

David Bates, one of 12 separate landowners whose properties would comprise the project, urged the supervisors’ support at the hearing, stating he’d first approached Hexagon in 2017 looking for a way to keep his 1,500 acres from one day being sold off piecemeal and developed.

“This is my land, and I don’t want it broken up,” Bates said.

Lynetta Davis of Spring Grove, however, said she’s “truly against” solar farms, “even if they pay my entire electric bill.”

Tracy Howell, also of Spring Grove, described the developers’ efforts to contact and entice area residents to support the project as “harassment.”

“I had visitors come to my home while my husband and I were at work asking questions of my daughters when they could speak to us, and it was a very hard sell,” Howell said.

“We’re passing this land down to the next generation and we can’t continue to not have clean energy,” countered Theresa James, an environmental science teacher.

“This is an opportunity for Surry County to lead the way. … Consider the young people, the people who are not represented in this room,” James urged.

Supervisor Michael Drewry motioned to table a final vote on the project until July 7; the motion passed 3-0 with Supervisor Timothy Calhoun abstaining owing to his employment with Dominion Energy.