Solar Case Study

Solar Powers County Improvements Without New Taxes

Virginia's first large-scale solar farm in Accomack County shows how solar projects can brighten finances and community investment without requiring tax increases.

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County Supervisors in Accomack County Virginia faced a worrying challenge: How to pay for mounting infrastructure and service needs without raising local taxes? To find an answer they looked to the sun. Partially thanks to a local solar project, which has paid $6 million to the county as of 2023, Accomack County grew their general fund, paid for improvements in emergency medical services, increased police pay and upgraded county buildings to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And they did it without raising taxes.

Background

Accomack County, Virginia, sitting astride a peninsula dividing the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, owes a lot to being sunny. Crops and tourists soak up the sun, whether in the field or on the beach. That’s why solar makes economic and energy sense.

Solar started the right way in Accomack County. In 2010 the county’s Planning Commission unanimously voted to create a development district and change the county’s agricultural district plans. Both were positive moves.

In 2016, Eastern Shore Solar, an 80-megawatt facility spanning 950 acres came online. It was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2015. Originally developed by Community Energy Solar (now AES), the solar farm is now under a long-term Power Purchase Agreement with Amazon Web Services to power data centers.

Solar Powered General Fund Provides Financial Flexibility to Improve Local Services

Perhaps the County Fund best demonstrates how the solar project has benefited each Accomack citizen. Partially thanks to solar, the fund was up even when Accomack County’s general economy was under multi-year stress. In fact, as of 2023, Accomack County has taken in over $6 Million in taxes from the solar project.

 Significantly more money is available in the General Fund
 – particularly due to increased tax revenue, thanks to the solar farm, and Accomack County said no to a tax increase in 2017.

Better Schools

Nearly $800,000 increase in spending for local education

Safer Communities

  • Six New Hires for EMS
  • Increase in police salaries

Lower County Costs

100,000 for additional solar panels to offset power costs at a local park

The Eastern Shore Solar project bumped the fund up more than three percent in 2019 and two percent in 2020. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but it was enough in 2019 to help fund seven new full-time county employees. Six of these were for the county’s expansion of EMS services in more remote areas of the county. Police salaries were also enhanced to retain good talent.

The County General Fund’s biggest outlay, almost half, goes to schools. The extra financial flexibility helped spur an almost half-million-dollar bump in 2019 and nearly $300,000 in 2020 for education. 

But there were additional direct benefits the county received from the solar project. There was the $50,000 the developer agreed to for substation upgrades and to build an educational display, furthering their student impact. And there was the $100,000 the county used to purchase additional solar to power a local park – helping reduce ongoing county costs.

It’s clear the solar project helped improve citizen safety, children’s education and support the county’s economic vitality. 

Benefits to Farmers

What started as a smaller 100-acre development eventually grew to roughly 1,000 acres involving multiple landowners. Farmers across the country realize the potential for solar developments as a way to supplement their income and provide for their families in a volatile global marketplace. Accomack County landowners understood that value and signed on. They receive an estimated $740,000 in annual landowner lease payments.

The economic development benefits of solar to Accomack County are demonstrated on several fronts – and will continue for years.

Reliable Income for Farmers

$740,000 in annual landowner lease payments

Jobs and New Business

New Business

Amazon plugs into Virginia solar power

New Jobs

  • $8 million for local construction salaries
  • $500,000 per year for ongoing jobs

Eastern Shore Solar also attracts new business that benefits the entire Commonwealth.  Virginia has grown to be a hub for data centers thanks to solar, providing clean, reliable renewable energy sought by Amazon and other data centers.  Access to renewables ensures high-tech companies will continue to be dominant economic drivers and job providers for Virginia.

At the onset, Eastern Shore Solar produced an estimated $8+ million in local construction salaries and $500,000 annually for ongoing jobs.

Eastern Shore Solar is Largest Accomack County Taxpayer

Solar Added Value for County Worth

  • 3.56% of total county assessed value

  • 78% more in assessed valuation than next largest taxpayer

Solar is a “No-Brainer” Benefit to the Region

Energy infrastructure is not a short-term thing. Accomack County, Virginia, shows that when people are friendly to renewable energy, it’s the beginning of a great friendship that pays for the long term.

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