Isle of Wight County’s energy task force gives quarterly update

Published 9:27 pm Thursday, October 12, 2023

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Isle of Wight County’s energy task force plans to make its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors within the next nine months.

The supervisors voted to create the task force in February and had named six of its seven members as of the group’s first meeting on June 5. As of its Sept. 11 meeting, a District 5 representative still hadn’t been named.

Lynn Briggs, the group’s chairwoman, told the supervisors on Sept. 21 that the group had settled on a mission statement involving an assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and vulnerabilities within the county’s energy planning to date. The group’s goal is to by June deliver recommendations on energy-related amendments to Isle of Wight’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.

Absent from the group’s mission statement is any mention of solar farms, which Supervisor Dick Grice described as having become a “hot button” issue in the county.

“We are looking at a broader scope than just solar,” Briggs said.

Grice, who plans to leave office at the end of December, six months ahead of the group’s final presentation, said he’s hoping for the task force’s input on whether to keep or amend a zoning ordinance change passed earlier this year that capped the cumulative acreage of solar farms in Isle of Wight to 2% of the county’s prime farm soils, or 2,446 acres.

The supervisors have approved eight solar farms to date, accounting for 2,208 acres or 1.8% of the county’s prime farmlands. As of August, the county had received five additional solar farm applications, including one that if approved would become the county’s largest. The Sycamore Cross solar farm, proposed to span the Isle of Wight-Surry county border, would span 2,844 acres, 2,036 or 71% of which would be on the Isle of Wight side.

Amy Ring, the county’s director of community development, told the supervisors at the time of the 2% cap’s May adoption that the near-moratorium wouldn’t apply to projects that had submitted an application for a conditional use permit prior to the adoption of the ordinance change. County Attorney Bobby Jones clarified at the Sept. 21 meeting that while the cap doesn’t prohibit new applications for solar farms once the 2% cap is reached, ones that exceed the limit will likely face a “higher hurdle” for approval.

Grice also asked the group to look into battery storage. Some solar farms seeking to generate electricity 24 hours a day will use on-site batteries to store and distribute the energy collected by solar panels during the hours the sun isn’t shining.

The task force has met four times to date and has heard presentations from Windsor-based Community Electric Cooperative, Dominion Energy and PA Energy Consulting. Lined up to speak to the group through mid-2024 are representatives from Columbia Gas of Virginia, the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center on Green Hydrogen Technology and a presentation on offshore wind farms from the Hampton Roads Alliance.

The task force meets at 4 p.m. on the second Monday of each month in the boardroom of the county’s government complex at Monument Circle. Its meetings are open to the public.