Future unclear for New Leaf Solar in Prince Edward County

Published 3:55 am Wednesday, January 3, 2024

UPDATE: Since the original story ran, New Leaf Solar has pulled back its project, asking for it to be temporarily put on hold while they address some of the concerns raised in the story below.

FARMVILLE – After a public hearing in December, the Prince Edward County Planning Commission voted not to recommend the New Leaf Solar project for approval. 

New Leaf Solar applied for a special use permit for a three-megawatt solar energy facility located on the east side of Old Ridge Road, about half a mile from the intersection at Prince Edward Highway or US 460. The facility will be on 69 acres of land but only 25 acres would be used for the panels. 

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During the public hearing, over a dozen residents spoke about their concerns with this project coming to Old Ridge Road. Concerns included runoff, negative environmental impacts, decommissioning and decreasing property values in homes. Many had a problem with the location as the solar facility is slated to go in a residential area with over 30 residents nearby. 

“They do not belong in a residential area,” said Anita Harris during the public hearing. “None of us have nothing against new clean energy farms but in the right location. There’s plenty of open unused land already cut and available. Protect your communities of families from living next to solar farms.”

With this concern echoed by the majority of the speakers, the planning commission directed the question back to New Leaf Solar about why this location was chosen. 

Why was this area chosen by New Leaf Solar?

According to Jessie Robinson, New Leaf Solar’s senior project developer, there were a few reasons that went into the decision. One was that the circuit for this facility is connecting to the Farmville substation which only runs into this area in Prince Edward. This location also has an interested landowner, existing vegetation for screening, avoids wetlands and floodplains and doesn’t need rezoning. 

“We did look at more sites in Prince Edward County,” said Robinson. “I’m sure there’s other parcels that meet some of the requirements for solar but not all.”

Planning commission weighs options

When looking to decide on this facility, the planning commission needed to first look at how this fits into the Prince Edward County Comprehensive Plan. Even though the plan is under review and could experience changes, the commission is to take the plan as it currently is and not anticipate any changes that may or may not happen. 

The plan currently encourages new residential development for that area as it has already seen a good amount of growth with recent developments with Rock River Construction. Using that land for a solar facility would not follow this plan. 

With this in mind, the planning commission voted unanimously that the Old Ridge Road Solar 1 LLC is not in accordance with the Prince Edward County Comprehensive Plan, denying the special use permit recommendation. 

What happens next for New Leaf Solar? 

Even though the commission voted against this proposal, there will be a public hearing at the board of supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 9, to discuss the facility again. The board will receive the hearing knowing that the planning commission does not recommend passing it.