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Surry approves solar farm

Surry County’s Board of Supervisors on May 6 approved a 240-megawatt solar farm that will span 1,750 acres across Surry and Isle of Wight counties.

Roughly 360 acres will be on Isle of Wight’s side of the county border. Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors has scheduled a vote on their portion of the project for May 20.

Surry’s portion is projected to generate about 180 megawatts, which will be fed into a nearby existing Dominion Energy substation, and about $16.7 million in revenue for the county.

Surry’s approval came via five separate votes: one to approve an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan, one to rezone the project land from agricultural to industrial, one to approve a conditional use permit, one to find the proposed project “substantially in accord” with the amended comprehensive plan, and finally, one to approve a siting agreement between the project’s developer, Cavalier Solar, and Surry County. Each passed unanimously with one abstention — Surry District Supervisor Tim Calhoun — who announced prior to the discussion that as an employee of Dominion, he had a potential conflict of interest.

“Any time there’s change, especially in the rural community … there’s pros and cons,” said Dendron District Supervisor Michael Drewry. “I’ve talked to citizens and it’s about 50/50 in the community.”

Susan Corvello, however, who spoke during citizens’ time that evening, took issue with Drewry’s assertion that the project had the support of roughly half the county’s residents, reminding the Board that the county’s Planning Commission had voted to reject Cavalier’s proposal.

“If we’re making so much money off these solar plants, and we’re going to get another one now since you’ve approved it, why do our taxes have to go up so much?” she asked, referring to the proposed 6-cent real estate tax increase proposed in the county’s 2021-2022 draft budget.

Drewry had previously asked that Cavalier’s proposal be tabled to May following the county’s April 1 public hearing on the matter, stating he still had several questions for company representatives.

“I am pleased that every time I brought up a concern, Cavalier Solar has responded,” he said. “I had over a dozen concerns; all of them have been addressed since the last meeting.”

He then spoke to the plight of families like the Sewards, who have agreed to partner with Cavalier as a means of generating revenue from their family farms.

“I was once a full-time farmer here in Surry County and remember the family farms here and the number of kids, and that’s disappearing; our population is disappearing; our school student population is disappearing; our family farms are disappearing,” Drewry said. “The Seward family out there is in the same predicament. While they acknowledge they are better off than most, they are looking for a way to continue to operate and keep their two sons [in Surry], so there is a balance of private property rights versus neighbors’ property rights … I wish I had had this opportunity myself.”

Per the terms of the agreement, Cavalier will be subject to 16 conditions, which range from mandating specifications for fencing and landscape buffering around the photovoltaic panels to allowing for school bus and rush hour traffic.

Cavalier, a subsidiary of the Salt Lake City, Utah-based utility-scale wind and solar company sPower, estimates construction of the solar panels will take approximately 18 months.