Time for a solar farm

Published 10:11 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2017

There was a time when farmers in Suffolk were known for their peanuts. Times have changed, however, and peanut fields are few and far between in the city’s agricultural landscape, replaced by soybeans, corn, cotton and other crops that promise to provide a better livelihood.

The thing about time is that it keeps marching on, and with its inexorable passage, it continues to bring change. Suffolk is not immune to those changes, and the people of this city have often embraced them, as evidenced by the growth in both technology and logistics as economic drivers.

But one change that has been slow in coming to the city has been that of alternative energy production. Even as its neighboring counties have seen vast acreage transformed into solar farms, it has been somewhat surprising that Suffolk, the largest city in land area in Virginia, has been passed over for such facilities.

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But if Tradewind Energy is successful in getting City Council approval for a solar farm on a 150-acre site in the 5000 block of Pruden Boulevard near Old Myrtle Road, Suffolk could join other Western Tidewater and Northeast North Carolina communities in leading the solar energy charge.

The city’s planning commission voted 6-2 on Tuesday to recommend approval of a conditional use permit for the $16-million project, which would generate power for about 2,500 homes, according to company officials.

As with any such project, there will be some drawbacks. Traffic during the six to nine months of construction will add about 120 vehicles per day to Route 460, an already-stressed highway, and at least one neighboring property owner is worried that the solar farm would reduce the value of his property.

We’d like to see the company work out an arrangement with that property owner, whose home would be surrounded on three sides by the project, to make him whole. And we’re cautiously optimistic about the company’s traffic-mitigation plan, which would require construction of turn lanes from Route 460.

But the 150 to 200 jobs that would result from the construction, along with the low-impact nature of this modern “agricultural” use and the growing need for alternatives to conventional energy production make this an important project for Suffolk to get behind.

We encourage the City Council to support it.