Solar farm proposed near Boykins

Published 4:09 pm Thursday, June 16, 2016

With the expectation that it will produce enough electricity to supply roughly 20,000 households across Western Tidewater, Community Energy Solar LLC has filed an application with Franklin Southampton Community Development to develop a 1,200-acre solar farm between Boykins and Newsoms.

The project — Southampton Solar — must get approval from the county’s board of supervisors; PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization that oversees the safety, reliability and effectiveness of power procurement; and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality before it can move forward.

“[The panels would be] arranged in multiple clusters rather than one large massing of land,” Community Solar Energy attorney Jamie Weist said in the application. “Within each cluster, less than one-third of the land is physically under panels, with the remaining two-thirds of the land open to the sky. The total land area is less than 1 percent of the farmland in Southampton County, and will be returnable to farming at the end of the project life.”

Community Energy Solar has developed roughly 1,400 megawatts of solar and wind energy projects throughout 13 states since 1999, including an 80 megawatt project in Accomack County that is scheduled to be operational by the end of 2016. The proposed facility in Southampton County would be the company’s largest in the Mid-Atlantic region, with the potential to create 100 megawatts of solar photovoltaic electric power.

“The county will received increased land tax payments of roughly five times than currently received on the project land,” Wiest said. “We estimate that the combination of land and equipment taxes will be roughly $350,000 to $400,000 per year in tax revenue to the county.”

The company hopes to begin construction of the $175 million facility in the spring of 2017, with commercial delivery of power expected by the end of said year. It has already secured leasing agreements from several landowners pending the project’s ultimate approval, all of which were included in the application,

“Renewable energy projects are on the rise across Virginia and the country as a whole,” said Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. President and CEO Amanda Jarratt. “To the best of my knowledge, [the project in Accomack County] has had a positive impact on the community. We look forward to continuing to work with the company and Southampton County to evaluate the proposed project and application.”

Three proffers were offered by Community Energy Solar, stating that the property may only be utilized for solar power generation facilities; agriculture, farming and forestry; and a single-family dwelling as an accessory to a farm of 10 acres or more.

“We intend to keep the bar high with our work here on the Southampton Solar project,” Wiest said.

A public hearing with the planning commission has been scheduled for August 11, at which time the commissioners can recommend approval to the board of supervisors.