Isle of Wight supervisors reverse course, approve 637-acre solar farm along Route 460

Published 5:11 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

Six months after voting against it, Isle of Wight County supervisors have approved what will be the county’s eighth solar farm.

Texas-based Open Roads Renewables on Aug. 17 received the supervisors’ 3-2 approval to proceed with plans for Carver Solar, a 71-megawatt, 637-acre solar farm that will straddle Route 460 between Windsor and Zuni.

Supervisors William McCarty, Joel Acree and Don Rosie had each voted in February against granting Open Roads’ requested conditional use permit, but the matter remained pending for six months as the supervisors never voted to deny the permit.

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This time, McCarty joined Supervisors Dick Grice and Rudolph Jefferson in voting to approve the project, contending that solar provides aging landowners with a source of revenue that allows them to retain ownership of their farms without having to work the land.

“Many of them have no next generation that want to take up farming,” McCarty said.

Acree and Rosie again cast “no” votes.

“There’s at least 400 of my constituents that don’t want it,” Rosie said.

Twenty speakers provided more than an hour of commentary on the project at the supervisors’ Jan. 18 public hearing on the matter, mostly in opposition.

Reconsideration of the Carver project was originally scheduled for December. Grice, at the supervisors’ Aug. 3 meeting, said his negotiations with Open Roads for an earlier date yielded an offer from the company to increase its voluntary cash payments to the county.

A 2022 economic impact study by Magnum Economics, prepared for Open Roads, had projected the Carver solar farm would generate just over $3 million in real estate taxes over the project’s estimated 40-year lifespan. The company has further offered a $1,400 per megawatt per year payment in lieu of machinery and tools taxes, which would pay the county an additional $6.1 million over 40 years.  

In addition to the cumulative $9.2 million from taxes and per-megawatt payments, Open Roads had, as of February, proposed six options for voluntary cash payments that would provide the county an additional $1 million to $2 million. According to Grice, the company has since offered a seventh that would provide the county with $2.5 million over a 20-year period.

Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson said he wasn’t aware of the supervisors having specifically directed Grice to negotiate with Open Road, but noted the approved version of the siting agreement now specifies the $2.5 million offer in writing. According to the agreement, Open Roads is to pay $127,000 per year starting six months after Carver begins operating.

Grice, at the Aug. 3 meeting, proposed combining the Carver project’s payments with those from the seven other solar farms Isle of Wight County has approved since 2015 and earmarking the funds for debt payments associated with large, one-time expenditures such as the building of new schools and the purchase of new fire and rescue vehicles.

With Carver’s approval, the now eight approved solar farms will occupy a cumulative 2,619 acres, or 1.8% of the county’s prime farm soils. Earlier this year, the supervisors voted to set a near-moratorium on solar farms by capping the cumulative acreage at 2% of the county’s prime farmland.

“This is not the first one,” Grice said of Carver. “What I really hope is this is one of the very last ones.”

According to Community Development Director Amy Ring, Isle of Wight had five additional solar farm applications pending as of Aug. 18.