Still no vote on southern Isle of Wight solar farm expansion

Published 8:48 pm Monday, January 2, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors have again postponed voting on a developer’s request to add acreage to a planned solar farm.

SolarGen of Virginia LLC, a subsidiary of Colorado-based Aquasan, had received the supervisors’ approval in 2019 to build a 55-megawatt, roughly 300-acre project named the Ho-Fel solar farm on Lees Mill Road near International Paper’s Franklin mill. Asheville, North Carolina-based Pine Gate Renewables has since purchased the project – which has yet to break ground – and is proposing to expand the facility by 18 acres.

According to Matt Boerger, Pine Gate’s project permitting manager, the 2022 proposal calls for the solar panels to be spaced further apart, which is why the extra acreage is needed. The project is now estimated to generate 40 megawatts rather than 55.

In 2020, Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation allowing localities to assess a $1,400 per megawatt per year payment in lieu of traditional machinery and tools taxes. Pine Gate has offered such a payment, which will escalate by 10% every five years for the estimated 40-year life of the project.

A proposed siting agreement specifies that Pine Gate will pay either the traditional M&T rate or the $1,400 per megawatt payment, depending on which is higher. For the project’s first seven years in operation, the M&T rate is projected to be higher, but by year eight the $1,400 payment will kick in to offset what the county would otherwise lose due to the panels’ depreciation in value.

The $1,400 payment is projected to bring in $1.76 million beyond what the county would receive if Pine Gate were to only pay M&T taxes. Factoring in both the revenue sharing payment and estimated real estate tax revenue, the project is estimated to bring in a total of $4.5 million over 40 years – up from the $3.3 million estimated in 2019. Were the land to remain in its current agricultural use, the county would receive just over $207,000 over the same 40-year period.

The supervisors had previously considered Pine Gate’s proposal in November. At their December meeting, the supervisors remained skeptical as to whether the county would receive the full $4.5 million were the project to be decommissioned before the 40 years were up.

Supervisor William McCarty told Pine Gate officials on Dec. 8 that he wanted to see “some kind of payout” in the event the project is decommissioned early.

Supervisor Dick Grice then called for a “set realistic expectation” as to the revenue the county would receive.

Pine Gate officials contend their lease of the land specifies a term up to 40 years, and that they expect the project to be in service that long, but couldn’t guarantee what might happen in the decades to come.

The 2019 Ho-Fel project is one of six solar farms approved for Isle of Wight County. Isle of Wight’s only operational solar farm, a 20-megawatt, 180-acre Longwood Drive facility known as Woodland, began generating power in 2017.

The other pending projects include the 20-megawatt, 193-acre Solidago solar farm near the Isle of Wight County Courthouse; the 85-megawatt, 730-acre Windsor PV-1 farm near the town of Windsor; the 240-megawatt, 1,750-acre Cavalier farm that will span the Isle of Wight-Surry county border; and the 2-megawatt, 20-acre Nuby Run farm on Orbit Road. Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission recommended approval in November for a seventh farm known as Carver Solar, which is proposed to generate 71 megawatts and span 637 acres adjacent to Windsor PV-1, but the Carver project has yet to be voted on by the supervisors.