Three solar farms set for May 28 hearings

Published 8:00 am Friday, May 24, 2024

A trio of solar farm applications will go before Isle of Wight County’s Planning Commission on May 28.

A public notice in the May 15 edition of The Smithfield Times lists public hearings for three separate solar facilities during the commission’s 6 p.m. meeting.


Sycamore Cross

The largest, Sycamore Cross Solar LLC, is named for its proposed Sycamore Cross Drive location 12 miles west of Smithfield at Isle of Wight’s border with Surry and Southampton counties. The 240-megawatt project by Arlington-based AES Corp. would occupy more than 2,400 acres across Isle of Wight and Surry, just under 1,200 of which would be fenced and see solar panels.

According to the notice, 1,795 acres located on Mill Swamp Road, dubbed “Sycamore Cross A,” would generate 214 megawatts. “Sycamore Cross B,” described in the notice as “an expansion of an existing major utility service,” would span another 240 acres and generate 6 megawatts. AES is requesting separate conditional use permits for Sycamore Cross A and B.

According to AES, the remaining roughly 20 megawatts and 125 fenced acres would be in Surry County.

According to Greg Creswell, senior development manager for AES, the dividing of the project into Sycamore Cross A and B comes at the request of Isle of Wight County.

“THe parcels which comprise Sycamore Cross B have already been approved for major utility service for an existing project,” Creswell said. “Thus, Sycamore Cross B would be an expansion of the major utility service use within those parcels, in conjunction with Sycamore Cross A.”

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


Moonlight Solar

Also on the agenda for the May 28 meeting is Moonlight Solar, a 44-megawatt farm proposed for Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads.

Planning commissioners voted unanimously in November to recommend denial of Jacksonville-based Palladium Energy’s requested conditional use permit for Moonlight after county staff identified multiple weaknesses, including environmental impacts and a “multiplicity and saturation of similar uses” due to the project’s half-mile proximity to the 2021-approved Cavalier solar farm. County supervisors, who have the final say in the matter, sent Palladium’s application back to the Planning Commission in March after the company proposed a slate of changes aimed at mitigating the county’s concerns.

Palladium proposes to reduce from 36 acres to 8.9 the impact to “ecological cores,” or wildlife habitats of “high importance,” by using larger solar panels spread over a smaller footprint to reduce the fenced acreage while maintaining the same nameplate generating capacity. Of the 523-acre project site, 231 acres, or 44%, would be fenced and host solar panels, down from 250 acres originally. The project is now proposed to take 242 acres of prime farmland out of agricultural use, down from the original 274.

The Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office, in an April 11 memorandum, stated it still has “major concerns” over the company’s plans to use Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads for site access, which it contends are too narrow for larger vehicles like school buses to pass trucks hauling solar panels. 


Pivot Energy

The third and smallest solar farm on the May 15 agenda is  a 3-megawatt project by Elk Development LLC and landowners William and Teresa Crocker proposed for 94.2 acres off Old Stage Highway, just under a mile from Hardy Elementary. According to the application, Colorado-based Pivot Energy Inc. would develop the project.

The Sycamore Cross and Pivot solar farms were each proposed in April 2023. Moonlight Solar submitted its application in May of last year.

Isle of Wight, which has approved nine solar farms since 2015, amended its zoning ordinance last year to include a 2,446-acre, or 2%, cap on the cumulative amount of prime farmland devoted to solar, just over 2,200 of which are already spoken for.