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Isle of Wight approves solar farm

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously May 20 to approve a proposed 240-megawatt solar farm that will span 1,750 acres across Isle of Wight and Surry counties.

Roughly 360 acres will be on Isle of Wight’s side of the county line, located on six parcels along Burwells Bay Road, Jones Drive, Mill Swamp Road and Pons Road.

The developer, Cavalier Solar, had applied for a conditional use permit for the six parcels, which included a request by the landowners to withdraw their properties from Isle of Wight’s Moonlight Agricultural/Forestal District.

Agricultural and forestal districts are voluntary creations of county governments that allow landowners special land use rates when their properties are assessed for real estate taxes in exchange for a pledge to keep their land in agriculture, forestry or open space use for a set number of years, usually 10.

Surry’s Board of Supervisors gave their approval for the project May 6. Isle of Wight’s supervisors last discussed the matter in April the night of the public hearing, opting to table the issue until May after Board Chairman Dick Grice asked for more information on “contributions or donations to individuals and entities in Surry and Isle of Wight” counties Cavalier’s parent company, sPower, had made, and in what amount.

Ben Saunders, a representative of Cavalier, told the board the company had been given roughly $200,000 in COVID-19-related funds and had been using that money to help people living in areas where the company is doing business, mainly focusing on children’s educational needs such as wi-fi hotspots.

“Government doesn’t need to be in the way of people and what they do with their property,” said Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree.

That said, he also called for the county to “set a standard” for future solar farm applications so that the same types of questions and concerns from citizens and board members don’t keep coming up every time there’s a new solar farm proposed.

“We need to be educated on types of panels, the way they’re produced, where they’re produced, their efficiency … this has been a learn-as-we-go kind of process and I think we need to pump the brakes and get educated as a community,” Acree said.

Cavalier estimates construction of the solar panels will take approximately 18 months.