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Deja Venue: Solar Company Seeks to Override Local Zoning

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Chestertown faces another showdown with Maryland’s Public Service Commission with a recent filing by Morgnec Road Solar LLC to place a solar field on Morgnec Road.

According to a December 16, 2016, Maryland Public Service Commission filing for a certificate of public convenience and necessity, Morgnec Road Solar LLC lists Simon Peter James as Manager of Sole Member.

The target site plan for 343 acres across from Delmarva Power and Light’s Chestertown Substation is inconsistent with current zoning designations.

Amy Moredock, Director Kent County Planning, Housing & Zoning, presented the case to the Chestertown town council during Tuesday’s session, recommending that the town’s interests in the matter should be represented by a legal intervention mechanism and work in tandem with any county effort to uphold county and town zoning laws.

Coming within a week of the Mills Branch application denial by a Public Utilities judge, the Morgnec solar case is another test of local zoning being challenged by energy companies who appeal to the Public Services Commission to override local zoning when a project is deemed as meeting the needs of public necessity.

Both the town and the county encourage renewable energy resources but want to see them meet local zoning requirements. Thousands of acres allowed by current zoning laws are available for energy projects throughout Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

Local resident and business owner Frank Rhodes called attention to the fact that Rt 213, north and south, and Morgnec Rd Rt 291 are main corridors to and from Chestertown and vast tracts of industrial solar fields would diminish the rural landscape.

“This is a gateway to Chestertown, a main route to one of the most historic towns in this country and to come into Chestertown from Millington or Kennedyville and to see these panels would be a horrible situation.” Rhodes is fully supportive of solar energy in appropriate areas.

The Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance has also been the forefront of challenging the Public Services Commission’s claim of preemption of local zoning laws. Addressing some of the reasons behind energy company choices, they write on their website “Developers seek farmland in Kent County and on the Eastern Shore because there are relatively large tracts of level, cleared land at prices far below that found in more populated areas. Our farmland is seen as undeveloped and waiting to be converted into a project.”

Planning Commission attorney Mitch Mowell said, “These companies are making money and disappearing. What they’re doing is buying tax benefits and taking advantage of the 1990s law that lets the PSC preempt if you want to place electric transmission wires and that local zoning can’t prevent that. That’s a big difference from a private company coming in and building where they choose. We need to get the legislature to understand that.”

The town council voted unanimously to officially file documentation to intervene before the Public Service Commission for further action to be delayed until after the appeals process for the Mills Branch project has concluded.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Martin Hersey says:

    I would rather see solar panels than undeveloped farmland. Let’s be circumspect about what companies can develop the land with solar, however.

    • Christensen-Lewis says:

      Farmland is not undeveloped, but yes let us be circumspect about where and how much land we are talking about. Much of the over 100,000 acres of brownfield, Superfund-sites, and landfills identified by the EPA on their repowering America page are close to population centers where power is needed. There are over 6000 acres of capped landfills in the Maryland alone that can be utilized. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has documented in a recently released paper that about 39% of the current retail electric needs for the State could be generated on existing rooftops.
      We currently lose 40 acres of farm and ranch land per hour in the US, according to the American Farm Land Trust. Energy production is only one of the many competing uses that removes farmland from production, but it is becoming significant as we look to reducing CO2. Would it not be better to find our way to using the contaminated and abandoned lands we have already destroyed and rooftops first.

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