Why this Sussex County woman is fighting a possible solar farm

Posted at 5:18 PM, Mar 27, 2023

SUSSEX COUNTY, Va. -- Word of a solar company looking to install solar panels on thousands of acres of land in Sussex County has prompted a grassroots effort to stop them before the company even applies for a permit.

“Just look me in the eye and tell me it's a good idea to cut down 5,000 acres of trees and place them with solar panels,“ Molly Dowless, a Sussex County property owner, said.

Dowless is proud of her family's farming heritage.

“We still have the original deed given to the family. So I own the family farm that was deeded to my ancestors in 1747 so it's 276 years old. It's never been out of the family. It's about 40 to 50 acres in timber, 30 in cropland and the balance in barns and buildings, houses,“ Dowless said.

The discussion of a solar farm has put Molly and many others in a defensive position.

“Trees cut down, stumps pulled, the ground graded. Solar panels put up and then fenced,“ Dowless said. “I'm not saying there isn't a place for solar. What we're saying is that this is not the place for solar.“

The opposition comes down to how many acres could be eliminated.

“It shows roughly 8,950 acres that they had intended to use as a footprint for this site. And roughly 5,000 acres of this site would be under panel.“

For now, Sussex County won't commit because no conditional use permit has been applied for by the company, which has spoken to landowners about what they would like to do.

Dowless does credit the county with having some strict guidelines when it comes to solar, adding that the county only allows a developer to use 65% of the footprint in solar panels.

“And I'll give the county credit, they have some really good rules in place to try to minimize the impact on the county. They're doing the best they can, there's just a lot of money in this,“ Dowless said.

At a February county board of supervisors meeting where Molly Spoke, there was standing room only with a crowd that included people from Central Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Dowless said the opposition will not let up in Sussex County.

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