Solar Farm Looking at Site Near Town

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Mayor Chris Cerino listens as Town Manager Bill Ingersoll makes a point

Should there be a large solar energy farm directly outside Chestertown? That question arose at the Dec. 17 council meeting, as Mayor Chris Cerino brought the council a request by the Kent County Commissioners for a letter of opposition to such an installation on a large tract on Morgnec Road.

Cerino said the proposal, by the Morgnec Road Solar group, was previously submitted about two years ago, at which point the commissioners and the council made their opposition known. At that point, the developer dropped the proposal, but it has now resubmitted it.

The Clark farm, as the tract in question is known, lies in Chestertown’s designated growth area, just outside town limits on the north side of Morgnec Road. It was being considered for annexation about 10 years ago, before a group seeking to develop it as a residential community withdrew their proposal in light of the real estate market collapse that accompanied the Great Recession of 2008. Morgnec Road Solar proposes to build an array on about 255 acres.

The county’s objection to developing the tract as a solar facility is on grounds that the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances have designated other areas as suitable for solar energy. Cerino said that the project is also opposed by the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, a group that came together in response to proposals to put large wind turbines on farmland within the county.

Councilman Marty Stetson said the site “makes no sense.” He said there are plenty of other areas in the county that are suitable, and “the sun shines everywhere.”

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked why that particular site was being promoted, in view of the county’s previous opposition and the dictates of the comprehensive plan. He said he would like time to study the issue, which originally came up before his election to the council.

Cerino said the developer claimed that other areas of the county “aren’t as prime” for solar generation.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the location of an electrical substation “across the street” was probably an important factor. He said the council probably doesn’t need to act at once. “We just need to put our names on the list,” he said.

Councilman David Foster asked if the County Commission, which now has two new members, may have changed its mind since the proposal was first submitted.

“I think they feel the same, but we may want to find out” before action, Ingersoll said. Morgnec Solar is asking the county for a zoning text amendment to allow the project, he said. That would have to be approved by the commissioners.

Cerino said there is a possibility that Morgnec Solar would ask the town to annex the Clark farm, which would “put the ball in our court.” The council deferred action until the new members have had a chance to study the issue.

The developer’s application to the Maryland Public Service C0mmission for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the 45-megawatt facility is available online as an attachment to the Kent County Commissioners Dec. 18 agenda.

In his monthly report, Police Chief Adrian Baker said he has made offers of employment to two candidates, to fill vacancies on the force, but as of the council meeting they had not accepted. He said the candidates would need to pass psychological tests and a polygraph session before qualifying to attend the police academy for six months. Upon graduation, they could be certified and begin work.

Baker also said that a suspect in a series of burglaries, about 40 in all, has waived extradition and is to be brought back to Maryland to face charges. A vehicle stolen by the suspect is also to be returned to the county.

The council unanimously approved a resolution to support a tax credit for Zelda’s, a “speakeasy” bar being built on the second floor of the building of Play It Again Sam’s coffee shop by Jeff Maguire, who owns the building. The building is in the town’s Arts and Entertainment District as well as the county’s Enterprise Zone, making it eligible for 10 years’ of tax credits. Ingersoll said the business will create several new jobs as well as bringing business to town.

Stetson asked if the credits apply to the whole building or just the upstairs. Ingersoll said only the upstairs is eligible.

Tolliver asked if other new businesses in town are eligible for the credit. Ingersoll said they would be if they apply, which he said is “something of a process.” He said that Jamie Williams, the county’s economic development director, and Kay MacIntosh, who holds an equivalent position with the town, are helping promote the benefits for new businesses in the Enterprise Zone, which has some 1,200 acres in the county, mostly in and around Chestertown.

Ingersoll reported that the town’s application for $4.5 million in U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grants was not approved. The town had applied for the grants to repave town streets, many of which are in serious need of the repair. He said that most of the grants available in Maryland had gone to larger projects such as bridges on the western shore. He said it is more difficult for rural areas to get the same benefits as urban areas because of the sparser population. The thanked Dixon Valve and Chesapeake Charities for their help in getting the town’s application in order before the grant deadline.

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Letters to Editor

  1. steve hamblin says:

    This sounds like Titanic passengers objecting to the color of the lifeboats.

  2. Steve Payne says:

    I’m all for renewable energy but that’s an awfully desirable piece of land and a higher and better use seems more appropriate to me.

  3. Is it time to proactively designate areas as places where solar farms can be developed without much controversy? Would areas such as the median of Rte. 301, or landfills, or rooftops of large buildings like Amazon has done in Middletown be a way to provide competitively cheap electricity without much heartache?

    • Joe Diamond says:

      Joe,
      You are gripping the tail. You have a good hold on it. But it is the dog you must confront if you want that constant thumping to stop. Electricity around here is produced by coal fired generators. Until that changes there will be Keep Kent Scenic folks and agricultural supply people making those thumping noises. All your ideas are valid but until the coal fired generators are hit on the nose they will be the big dogs.
      While people agree coal is dirty and dangerous both to mine and transport. They agree the byproducts of coal use are even more lethal. It is the money ….invested money……that will keep things going as they are. Solar energy has no byproducts and it is produced far enough away to never cause concern about energy production. If solar energy replaced coal tomorrow there would be crying in many beers……So these guys are just putting on the brakes a little……..Your use of logic and common sense will not convince them.

      Joe Diamond

    • Janet Christensen-Lewis says:

      Your thoughts are exactly correct. Many states have enacted financial incentives for many of the locations you highlight and inroads within Maryland for recognition of land use issues are beginning to be recognized.

      Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance is working with other groups at the State level. Long advocates for solar, not only on residential rooftops but on covered parking lots (Chesapeake Community College is a good example), Commercial Rooftops, landfills ,reservoirs (yes there are floating panels), and brownfield, we continue our advocacy to increase utilization of these already built spaces.

      The 301 corridor is already zoned for Utility Scale Solar as are other Employment and Industrial Districts. Kent County was proactive in designating space long before any other counties considered it. We have a very proactive zoning code to net metering both for rooftop and on-farm use.

      Will there still be a need for larger scale land consuming utility scale solar generation plants, perhaps, but the place of those power plants should be determined by best land use practices, not corporate profit.

      • joe diamond says:

        Janet,
        I look at two local aspects.
        Clearly, utilizing available spaces…such as every flat roof in Christendom should happen. Converting maintenance lighting along highways to solar would be an EZ giant step. AS even residential roof tops get replaced there are modern solar panels that would ease electric costs of many home owners.
        The other solar option is not as easy to bring about. There is a large sign in the sky around here,,,,Thou Shall Not Take Farm Land In Vain……In a place with plenty of flat, open land FIVE acres is allowed for solar installation on farms. AS farmers….who do know their operations very well… look at the margins they are working with examine the income from a commercial solar array….you would think they would be able to make a business decision without the help of a local bureaucracy. I was involved in an application for a fifty acre solar array……..it was turned down….the company hit the road to turn on a 1000 acre array the next day. They will not be back until that sign in the sky is gone.
        AND the unaddressed issues still are:
        1. what to do to get coal out of the issue….. and
        2.HOW do you maintain the distribution system after coal
        is no longer part of the power grid.

        Joe

        • Janet Christensen-Lewis says:

          Maryland and PJM understand exactly how to have grid reliability without coal. Natural gas fired turbines, which can be quickly throttled back at high noon in August. Grid reliability without fossil fuel is the conundrum. And while 25% of the GHG emissions come from global electric production we are still left with the other 75% of GHG, which is always left out of the conversation when talking about clean energy, as if coal and fossil fuel in the electric sector were the only problem that needs solving. The other sources like deforestation, steel and cement production, transportation, and air and shipping transport pose a much bigger puzzle to solve in the global GHG emission landscape.

          Energy and emissions are more complicated than putting in a 50-acre solar array on prime farmland. One of my favorite quotes from Bill Gates is: “the climate is easy to solve group is more of a block (to progress) than climate deniers”

          A number of issues need to be addressed:
          1. Increase the 1500 MW cap allowed by law in Maryland on behind the meter solar (net metering).
          2. Study the transmission and distribution capacities to find out where we can get the most benefits from distributed energy for the least cost. (Locational Study)
          3. Undertake an analysis, as many other states have done, to assess:
          Preferred land, capped landfill, brownfield, reservoirs
          None-preferred land, forest, tier I and II, prime farmland, soils of state-wide significance,
          Identify incentives to encourage solar development on preferred sites
          Identify how to maximize commercial and residential rooftop and parking lot solar.
          4. PJM needs to a study to define the cost, performance and risk of alternative electric power systems.

          Moving forward Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance will continue to advocate for smart solar siting, champion all ways to reduce GHG emission and remain committed to saving our prime soils which properly managed can reduce CO2 through carbon sequestration

      • Would it be possible to take the next necessary step and encourage the establishment of electrical power substations to be built close to those areas designated as utility scale solar generation plants/areas?

  4. Janet Christensen-Lewis says:

    Michael,

    My response was to Joe’s query about how to get coal out of the equation. I wrote that coal is being replaced by natural gas, an agnostic statement of fact. Coal’s share of the electric generation in Maryland, and indeed in the US, has been decreasing while natural gas has been on the rise. The conundrum, that I pointed out, is without any truly cost effective or scalable storage for intermittent renewables at this point, removal of all fossil fuels is not on the near horizon. Increasingly natural gas is the choice, whether it is a better substitute for coal or not.

    Carbon sequestration under solar panels is not relevant to my argument, because we need not make the choice. Protecting prime soil OR installing solar generation is a false equivalency. We can leave our prime soils unencumbered while utilizing locations that have no sequestering potential: Rooftops, asphalt parking lots, power line rows, large commercial rooftops, strip mines, covered landfill and reservoirs.

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