Moonlight solar farm on hold

Published 3:48 pm Friday, January 26, 2024

An application for a new 44-megawatt solar farm in Isle of Wight County proposed for 523 acres at Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads is on hold at the developer’s request, according to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

Representatives of Palladium Energy, Moonlight Solar LLC’s Jacksonville, Florida-based developer, had asked Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission in November to defer voting on a recommendation until this month to give the company additional time to mitigate multiple weaknesses identified in a report by county staff, among them its proximity to the in-progress 1,750-acre Cavalier solar farm spanning the Isle of Wight-Surry county border. The commissioners, however, didn’t heed the request and voted unanimously on Nov. 28 to recommend denial of Palladium’s requested conditional use permit.

Typically, after the Planning Commission votes on its recommendation, the matter heads to the Board of Supervisors the following month for a final public hearing and vote, but the matter wasn’t on the supervisors’ December or January agendas.

According to Robertson, Palladium has again “requested that the matter be postponed.”

In addition to the Moonlight solar farm’s half-mile distance from the 2021-approved Cavalier project, the county report took issue with Palladium’s plan to use Burwells Bay and Moonlight roads for construction access, contending both roads have minimal shoulders and deep ditches that would be unsafe for tractor-trailers hauling solar panels. The report further contends the project will impact 36 acres of “ecological cores,” or wildlife habitats, of “high importance,” and will initially be visible from historic homes, including the early 19th century Carroll Plantation house adjacent to the proposed site.  

Palladium and county officials estimated in November that the project would bring in $5.4 million in tax revenue over its estimated 40-year lifespan, $1.1 million of which would be paid to the county prior to the start of construction per the terms of a proposed siting agreement. The projected revenue would increase to $6.1 million over 40 years if the county approves a revenue-sharing agreement in lieu of charging machinery and tools taxes.

Isle of Wight’s zoning ordinance contains a provision capping the cumulative acreage of solar farms in Isle of Wight to 2% of the county’s prime farm soils, or 2,446 acres. The county has approved nine solar farms since 2015 accounting for roughly 2,226 acres or 91% of the total.  

Caleb Kitchen, the county’s project manager for the Moonlight project, told commissioners in November that the solar farm would place panels on another 274 acres of prime farmland, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as soils with the “best combination of physical and chemical characteristics” for growing crops.  

The addition of Moonlight, Kitchen told The Smithfield Times that same month, would exceed the limit, bringing the total acreage to 2,500, or 2.04%, though he noted Palladium is technically not subject to the limit, as its May 16 application for the requested permit was received two days prior to the supervisors’ May 18 vote to add the 2% cap to the zoning ordinance.