Supervisors delay ‘Prairie Solar’ vote to June

Published 6:58 pm Monday, May 22, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors will wait until June to vote on the 20-megawatt “Prairie Solar” facility proposed on Longwood Drive.

Arlington-based Energix Renewables is seeking a conditional use permit for a 432-acre solar farm, though only 152 acres would see solar panels and fencing. The rest of the land, which is owned by Everets Properties, would continue to be farmed for timber.

In February, the county’s agricultural/forestal district advisory committee voted 5-0 with five members absent to approve Everets’ request to withdraw 103 acres from the Longview Agricultural/Forestal District for the Prairie project. In April, the county’s Planning Commission voted 9-1 to advance the project to the supervisors with a favorable recommendation.

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Prairie would be located within roughly a mile of the existing Woodland solar farm, also on Longview Drive. Longview, also known as State Route 602, spans roughly 6.3 miles from its intersection with Bowling Green Road near Darden’s Country Store to the Everets community on the Suffolk side of the county-city border.

Woodland is at present the only operational solar farm in the county, though a total of six have been approved.

The supervisors’ May 18 public hearing on the Prairie project drew five speakers, three opposed to approving the proposal as is, and two in support.

Among those against Prairie moving forward are Laura Fletcher of Smithfield, who called Isle of Wight and other largely rural counties “prime candidates for, frankly, abuse” when it comes to solar development, and said she wants to see a cap on the cumulative number of solar farms allowed within the county.

Alexandra and Rusty Rose, Prairie’s two supporters, each represent the project’s landowner. They both described the proposal as a way to keep the land economically viable and in their family, as it has been for generations.

The project is projected to generate roughly $3.3 million in additional revenue for the county between real estate and machinery and tools taxes over its 35-year lifespan.

When Supervisor Dick Grice asked Energix representatives if or when county residents would begin seeing lower electric bills from the proliferation of solar farms, Dominika Sink, senior director of project acquisition and development for Energix, said that while her company would welcome the opportunity to sell the power Prairie would generate directly to local residents, Virginia laws currently require solar farms to sell to grid operators like Dominion Energy, whose rates are regulated by the State Corporation Commission.

Supervisor Don Rosie asked whether Prairie would remain economically viable for the duration of its estimated 35-year lifespan if the federal subsidies funding its construction were to someday go away. Sink explained the project would be funded via a one-time investment tax credit, which allows corporations to use a certain amount of their federal tax liability to invest in solar development.

Once construction is finished, Prairie would not depend on any subsidies to operate, Sink said.