Old Ridge Road solar project dead: New Leaf pulls requests

Published 6:03 am Friday, March 29, 2024

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There won’t be a public hearing about Old Ridge Road next week after all. On Monday, March 25, officials from New Leaf Energy sent a letter to Prince Edward County’s planning department, announcing they were officially withdrawing their special use permit application. 

“The application is null and void,” said Robert Love. He serves as Prince Edward County’s Planning Director. “They would have to start from square one if they picked this back up.” 

It’s not exactly a common situation. Love said he’s seen just one other case where a company completely pulled the project during his time in Prince Edward. 

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This is different than just simply putting the project on hold. If the project’s on hold, that just means the company involved wants to push the hearing to another date, while they make adjustments. But fully withdrawing the application means if they do come back to discuss this idea, they would be starting from scratch. That would require another visit to the planning commission and a vote by that group, before it ever comes before the Prince Edward supervisors, assuming it ever does. 

At this point, New Leaf hasn’t indicated what their plans are, if they’ll pursue the property in question. The Herald has reached out to New Leaf officials through phone and email, but we haven’t heard back as of press time. 

The Old Ridge Road situation 

So if you’re just reading about this for the first time, here’s what we’re talking about. New Leaf Solar came before the Prince Edward County Planning Board on Thursday, Dec. 19, asking for a special use permit. That request was for a three-megawatt solar energy facility, located at 4122 Old Ridge Road. To put the area in context, it’s about half a mile from the intersection at Prince Edward Highway or U.S. 460.
The property in question is 104.1 acres. That includes a proposed 24.3 acres for the solar facility and then the rest serving as a type of landscape buffer. As for local use, the company wants to be part of Dominion Energy’s shared solar program, so any Dominion customers in the area could connect to the system. The proposal would generate an estimated $360,000 in tax revenue for Prince Edward County over a 40-year period if approved. Divided up, that comes to $9,000 per year.
That request for a permit was voted down by the planning commission, partly because New Leaf at the time had not addressed concerns raised by a number of residents. Regardless, that wasn’t the end of the conversation. Despite the unanimous vote not to recommend by the planning commission, it was New Leaf’s right to go before supervisors for a public hearing. When we last reported on the project, that’s where things stood, with New Leaf officials requesting a public hearing at the supervisors’ April 9 meeting. But something changed over the last month, causing New Leaf to completely pull the project. 

Technical concerns raised

New Leaf officials have said they picked this spot on Old Ridge Road because it can connect to the Farmville substation. They also pointed out that unlike some other spots, this one wouldn’t need to be rezoned to put in a solar farm. And also, it had a landowner willing to sell.

It does, however, require a special use permit, if someone wants to build a solar farm, because of the area it would be in. This section of land is designated as A-2, agricultural residential, by the county. And while there is a lengthy list of “by-right” land uses available, such as farming, forestry, horse stables and a number of housing options, solar or other energy facilities aren’t included. And so, the company has to request a permit. 

It’s worth noting that this would have been the county’s only solar farm in an A-2 area. All of the other applications so far have come in A-1, agricultural, designated areas.