Isle of Wight energy task force meets

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Isle of Wight County’s “energy task force” plans to meet monthly over the next year and seek input from a variety of energy industry experts.

Eight months ago, while considering proposed solar farm applications, the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission recommended county supervisors form an advisory body to review Isle of Wight’s remaining capacity in high-voltage transmission lines and emerging energy generation technologies. The supervisors voted to create the task force in February, deciding on a seven-member body composed of one representative from each of the five voting districts, plus two at-large seats filled by representatives from Smithfield’s and Windsor’s town councils.

The task force held its first meeting on June 5, though only six of its members have been appointed to date. A District 5 representative has yet to be named.

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Lynn Briggs, an employee of Isle of Wight County Schools’ central office who has expressed interest in leasing a portion of her family-owned farm in the Morgart’s Beach area for a solar project, represents District 1.

Thomas Distefano, a Navy engineer, represents District 2. As a member of the Planning Commission, Distefano pushed last year for a now-adopted ordinance limiting existing and proposed solar farms to a cumulative 2% of the county’s “prime” farm soils, or 2,446 acres, but says he doesn’t oppose solar on principle.

“There is definitely a place for clean and new energies,” Distefano said.

David Tucker, a retired engineer who has frequently opposed the proliferation of solar farms in the county at public hearings and in letters to the editor of The Smithfield Times, represents District 3.

Lewis Edmonds, a Navy reservist, represents District 4.

Smithfield Town Councilman Michael Smith and Windsor Town Councilman Edward “Gibbie” Dowdy hold the two at-large seats.

Isle of Wight County Economic Development Director Chris Morello serves as the group’s facilitator.

A draft mission statement, which the task force members plan to revisit in July, currently specifies the group is to investigate and report findings to the supervisors on community concerns associated with energy supply and demand, focusing on gaining “expert-sourced information” on existing infrastructure capacity and emerging technologies.

Texas-based Open Road Renewables, which had proposed the 637-acre “Carver Solar” facility between Windsor and Zuni last year, told the Planning Commission in November that the project would have pushed the carrying capacity of the area’s power grid to its maximum. Isle of Wight supervisors voted to reject the Carver project in March.

Among the experts the task force is interested in hearing from is Windsor-based Community Electric Cooperative, which operates transmission infrastructure in Isle of Wight, Surry, Southampton and Sussex counties as well as the city of Suffolk. The group is also interested in hearing about small, modular nuclear reactors, or SMRs, touted in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2022 energy plan.

“There’s bigger issues (than solar),” Edmonds said.

The group plans to meet at 4 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the boardroom of the county government complex at Monument Circle.

The group has yet to elect a chairman, who would be tasked with providing updates to the supervisors on the group’s progress.