New Leaf Solar appeal set, supervisors will hear case

We now have a date when the New Leaf Solar project will go before Prince Edward’s board of supervisors. The company has notified county staff that its’ appeal is no longer on hold. 

“Last Friday, I was sent an email by the legal counsel from New Leaf Energy,” Prince Edward Planning Director Robert Love told the county planning commission on Tuesday. “That (appeal) will be heard now by the board in April. So we will be advertising for the April board meeting.” 

What is the New Leaf Solar project? 

Now for anyone who’s just joining us, this situation runs back for several months. 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. 

However, after that Dec. meeting, New Leaf officials reached out to the county and put their request on hold, saying they wanted to try and address the residents’ concerns.

Concerns from residents 

Now if you’ve been reading The Herald recently, you’ve noticed the would-be neighbors of this solar project have made their position on it clear. Plain and simple, they don’t want it. In letter after letter to the editor, each family has stated their case. 

“Our Old Ridge Road neighborhood is not interested in rehashing New Leaf Energy’s solar farm proposal here,” stated one letter from Ralph and Anita Harris. “We have attended two presentations and heard them. They heard us too. Nothing changes the potential risks and our concerns on locating their solar farm in our community of residential homes and close to wetlands.” 

They’re concerned about the impact and potential decrease of property values due to the solar farm; they have questions about what would happen to panels when they have to be replaced. Part of that concern stems from the proposed leasing agreement. The deal would be for 20 years, with options to extend that to 40 years in five-year increments. So on the one hand, there’s no guarantee the lease would reach 40 for that full $360,000 in revenue. Second, the solar panels have a warranty for 25 years. That’s what triggers some of the concern from neighbors, who are worried about possible contamination from panels wearing out.  And some are frustrated because their road already floods when strong storms roll through the area. What will happen when you cut down timber and plants to build a solar farm? Won’t that just make the problem worse? 

“New Leaf is not a member of our community,” wrote Old Ridge resident Steve Wall in a letter to The Herald. “They are not working with residents and landowners because the residents and landowners do not give a tinker’s d*** about any concessions on hunting, etc that they have to offer. We do not want that ridiculous boondoggle in our nest!” 

Technical concern with New Leaf Solar 

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, 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 be 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. 

When will hearing take place? 

As for when that hearing will be? Prince Edward County supervisors will hear from all those involved on Tuesday, April 9, during their 7 p.m. meeting. That’ll take place at in the board’s chambers, located at 111 N. South Street in Farmville. 

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