Surry planners take first look at Sycamore Cross solar farm

Published 5:42 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Surry County’s Planning Commission received its first look on March 25 at the proposed Sycamore Cross solar farm, which would span more than 2,400 acres along the Isle of Wight-Surry county line.

Surry’s portion of the project, which is named for its Sycamore Cross Drive location in Isle of Wight, would generate 19 of the 240-megawatt nameplate capacity. Surry’s 125-acre share amounts to just over 10% of the project’s roughly 1,156 fenced acres.

According to Greg Creswell, senior development manager for the solar farm’s Arlington-based parent company, AES Corp., all six parcels comprising the Surry portion, only three of which would see solar panels, would be located in an area of the county already zoned M1 industrial and are already slated in the county’s comprehensive plan future land use map for approved and existing solar. Despite this, the project will still need to go before the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for a conditional use permit.

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Sycamore Cross would adjoin the in-progress Cavalier solar farm, also under development by AES, which also spans the Isle of Wight-Surry line.

The location, Creswell said, has ideal topography and soil conditions for solar development and wouldn’t require any new high-voltage transmission lines or substations on its Surry side.

A flier AES recently distributed to Smithfield-area residents estimates Sycamore Cross could generate up to $2.2 million in tax revenue for Surry over the project’s 35-year lifespan and another $20.3 million for Isle of Wight.

Cresswell said AES plans to maintain agricultural use of the land slated for solar panels by allowing sheep to graze on the grasses between panels. Similar grazing programs are already in place for solar farms generating 600 megawatts across the state, Cresswell said.

The project’s Surry portions, Creswell said, would be fully screened by existing vegetation buffers rather than new plantings.

The company plans to centralize its project staging area at the corner of Sycamore Cross Drive and Mill Swamp Road in Isle of Wight and use Proctors Bridge Road from Ivor for deliveries.

Sycamore Cross is still under review by county staff in Isle of Wight and is expected to reach that county’s Planning Commission in the next two to three months. Each county’s Planning Commission and supervisors will need to hold separate public hearings on the project’s requested conditional use permits.