Sycamore Cross, IW’s largest proposed solar farm, headed to Planning Commission this spring – Smithfield Times – Smithfield Times

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Sycamore Cross, IW’s largest proposed solar farm, headed to Planning Commission this spring

Published 8:25 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Sycamore Cross Solar LLC, the 10th and largest proposed solar farm in Isle of Wight County, should reach the Planning Commission by spring, according to its developers.

The 240-megawatt project, named for its Sycamore Cross Drive location 12 miles west of Smithfield at Isle of Wight’s boundary with Southampton and Surry counties, received its “certificate of public convenience and necessity” from the State Corporation Commission in January, according to Greg Creswell, senior development manager for the solar farm’s Arlington-based parent company, AES Corp.

Virginia law mandates solar farms that generate electricity in excess of five megawatts demonstrate to the state, through the SCC’s certification process, that the project “is not contrary to the public interest.” The SCC certification is one of two processes Sycamore Cross must complete before breaking ground.

The other, which pertains to the conditional use permit AES applied for in April, is handled at the county level. Once the Planning Commission holds its required public hearing on Sycamore Cross and votes on a favorable or unfavorable recommendation, the matter will head to county supervisors, who, for now, still have the final say. Two General Assembly bills that proposed allowing the SCC to overrule county-level rejections of new solar farms have been tabled until 2025.

A flier AES recently distributed to Smithfield residents estimates Sycamore Cross could generate up to $20.3 million in tax revenue for Isle of Wight and another $2.2 million for Surry over the project’s 35-year lifespan. The project is slated for more than 2,800 acres spanning the Isle of Wight-Surry county line, around 1,200 of which would actually see fencing and solar panels. Roughly 1,070 fenced acres would be located in Isle of Wight and another 124 would be located in Surry. No components of the project are presently slated to spill over into Southampton County.

The 240 megawatts Sycamore Cross would generate are enough to offset the equivalent of 298,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each year and power 58,000 homes, according to the flier. AES says the project’s goal is to support the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, a state law that mandates Dominion Energy transition to 100% carbon-free electricity sources by 2045.

Plans for Sycamore Cross have been in the works since at least 2022 when county land transfer records showed Blue Sky Endeavors, another AES subsidiary, having purchased roughly 1,700 acres at the project site for $12.1 million. AES submitted Sycamore Cross’s formal application for a conditional use permit in April. If approved, it would be issued at the county level separate from the state certificate.

Amy Ring, the county’s director of community development, said she hadn’t received word as of Feb. 21 of a specific date Sycamore would be heading to the Planning Commission.

AES is the same developer behind the 1,750-acre Cavalier Solar farm, another 240-megawatt project spanning the Isle of Wight-Surry line that’s under construction and slated to begin operating this year. Isle of Wight’s and Surry’s supervisors each approved their portions of Cavalier in 2021. According to a public notice published last year ahead of the SCC review process, Sycamore Cross will connect to a Dominion substation on Mill Swamp Road approximately 4½ miles away near the Cavalier site.

The Sycamore flier estimates the project, if approved this year, would begin construction in 2025 and be operational by 2026.

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