Where the Sun Is Shining on Solar in Kent County by Janet Christensen-Lewis

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The proposed Urban Grid solar farm site on Morgnec Road near Chestertown. Photo Credit: Tyler Campbell

A pattern is emerging for several utility-scale renewable energy projects that are moving forward, or not, in Kent County.  The reason for the forward momentum or stall in all three seems to be the same: the willingness of the energy developers to cooperate with local laws and plans.  The score so far:  one positive, that is, project moving forwards3, one mediocre, and one negative.

Positive: OneEnergy’s Blue Star Solar LLC solar project in Massey is set to move forward after receiving final site plan approval from the Planning Commission. The project is located in a zone where utility scale solar energy generation is allowed. Washington College is currently negotiating to buy some of the energy produced. OneEnergy plans to install native plantings for increased water quality and has agreed to comply with Kent County’s Forest Conservation Ordinance (FCO). (This after the Public Service Commission (PSC) upheld the Public Utility Law Judge’s ruling on appeal that the company needed to meet the Power Plant Research Program (PPRP) condition of afforestation and compliance with the county’s FCO. The FCO is based on the state’s mandate under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) requiring anyone needing a major site plan (approximately 1 acre) to contribute to the reforesting of Maryland, regardless of whether trees are removed on-site.  The application of the FCA has benefits for the environment and Chesapeake Bay. OneEnergy’s project will have other direct benefits within the County while being in compliance with all local laws.

Two other projects proposed for Kent County have sought repeated suspensions of their applications for Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) with the  PSC, a necessary part of the process OneEnergy has achieved long since.

Mediocre: Community Solar, Massey Solar LLC, is also located in Massey within a zone where their project is an approved use. That’s a positive. Yet, this corporation has asked the PSC for another CPCN delay in its quest for exemption from compliance with Kent’s FCO, which the state’s PPRP has made a condition for receiving the CPCN. Instead of paying lawyers to carry on their battle to relitigate the PPRP’s condition, Community Solar should just decide to comply, get their site plan approved by the Planning Commission, their CPCN from the PSC, and start construction.

Negative: The other stalled applicant, Urban Grid, Morgnec Road Solar LLC, has plans for solar development on Kent County property zoned Rural Residential and Community Residential in the designated growth zone for Chestertown (with accessible water and sewer hook-up paid for by taxpayers). Urban Grid has proceeded despite opposition from Kent County, Chestertown, and Kent Conservation, all of whom have filed as interveners in the PSC case. The basis for opposition is simple. The project is direct violation of County zoning and it is not in compliance with either the county’s or the town’s comprehensive plan – the same reasons that Apex’s solar project in Chesterville was denied a CPCN by the PSC last January (as was a similar project in Allegany in February).  Maryland’s General Assembly has since added language to the PSC’s enabling law directing the PSC to give “due consideration” to “consistency of the application with the Comprehensive Plan and zoning,” buttressing existing language requiring consideration of the opinions of local government.

Urban Grid’s requested delay for another 90 days in order to dress up its project with another redesigned landscape plan (we note that Urban Grid hired a Virginia-based company for their plan, not a Maryland firm, much less a local one) does nothing to explain how the fundamental issue is to be resolved, namely that industrial, utility-scale solar at this location does not comply with local plans and zoning.

We can now also report that the myth of job creation post-construction by renewable energy projects in Kent County can be put to rest. In a report on Urban Grid’s similarly sized project in Queen Anne’s County, the company stated, “no fulltime employees would be required in its operation.”

Meanwhile 143 rooftop and on-farm solar projects have been registered in the PJM GATs (Generation Attribute Tracking System) since Massey Solar, LLC first filed their application in November 2015. PJM is a regional electric power system based in Pennsylvania and serving 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Janet Christensen-Lewis

Chair, Board of Directors

Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance

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Letters to Editor

  1. Bob Ingersoll says:

    Thank you for the update on local solar development. As a very long time solar advocate, I am happy to find that I agree with all the points in your article. Solar, like everything else, has its place, and the County and Town worked hard to designate the areas where utility scale solar would be appropriate. It is sad that some utility scale applicants go to such great lengths to place it elsewhere.

  2. joe diamond says:

    Could we get the member list of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance?

    Who are the Board of Directors?

    Then I would ask for a clarification. Is it the position of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance that that agriculture should be preserved? Could crop fields be converted to wooded hunting tracts with your blessing? Are there other agribusinesses that you oppose? Are chicken or hog operations OK with you?

    Or are you somehow related to other forms of energy production. Maryland energy arrives from Delaware coal fired generators and, I think, at least one nuclear reactor. Is that what you want to preserve?

    joe

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