Paula Reeder’s letter to the Spy, published 9/24/21 in support of the Morgnec Road Solar LLC installation of solar panels on the 400 acre Clark farm, located on Route 291 at the eastern border of Chestertown, is a litany of misrepresentations and absurdities. Space does not allow a detailed refutation of her statements, but I will try to succinctly address the most egregious.
In her first bullet point, she considers the site “is particularly well suited to its proposed use”, meaning solar panels. In reality, there are about 150,000 other acres in Kent County which are far more suited to solar panels than this one, including about 5000 acres specifically zoned for that near Massey which is adjacent to a main electrical transmission line. The Clark farm is the only adequate site available for future Chestertown expansion, both residential and commercial, as expansion in all other directions is precluded by inconvenient access, inadequate space, prior land preservation in perpetuity, or the river. This has been recognized by the Chestertown Town Council, which voted unanimously 2 years ago to oppose the project, and reaffirmed this position in a unanimous Council vote taken this past summer with the full support of Mayor David Foster. Ms. Reeder is apparently willing to write off the official position of the government of Chestertown, and ignore the views expressed by its citizens through the Council for the future of the town’s development.
In her second point she states “solar power is the cleanest, the most dependable, most environmentally friendly source available. Further, it is inexhaustible.” This statement is ludicrous. Solar panels utilize numerous rare earths – cobalt, nickel, cadmium, lithium, vanadium, graphite – whose mining techniques are among the dirtiest and most environmentally damaging in the world. Not accidentally, this mining takes place almost exclusively in China and Africa, where environmental protections are nonexistent. The statement about dependability is the most laughable, as solar power obviously ends each day at sundown, decreases in the winter to miniscule amounts, and fluctuates daily in unpredictable ways as clouds, haze, and rain obscure the sun. Overall solar power generation is available for less than 40% of the time, whereas all other sources (except wind) are at 90% plus. This mandates a poor and inefficient return on the capital costs.
Solar power always has to be backed up 100% by other generation techniques, usually gas turbines, which can ramp up and down quickly to compensate for its fluctuation. Solar power in excess of about 30% of grid power destabilizes the grid because of this variability, and leads to power blackouts, as was seen this past year in California and Texas, when electricity demand peaked and blackouts ensued for several days to a few weeks. As far as “inexhaustibility” is concerned, solar panel lifetime is officially stated at about 25 years, but in reality the panels decrease steadily in efficiency after installation, and rarely last beyond 15-20 years. By contrast, gas turbines and other fossil fuel plants run for decades, and nuclear plants typically last for 80 years plus. Both can supply uninterrupted power 24/7/365.
Lastly, the cleanup of solar panels when their lifetime ends, as far as handling and disposition of the many toxic metals involved in their construction, is currently a totally unaddressed and unsolved problem. If solar power were not maintained and supported by government subsidies, it would cease tomorrow, as has been demonstrated in California on several occasions over the last three decades when subsidies were temporarily withdrawn.
Also in her second point, Ms. Reeder states that solar power will be less expensive. This is also totally untrue. First, the power generated will be sold wholesale to the grid, and distributed everywhere through conventional power companies in the usual way at usual rates. Second, the fact that solar power must always be 100% backed by gas turbines means that when you buy solar you automatically have to buy two power generation systems so that power can still be delivered when the sun doesn’t shine. The total costs are approximately twice what other types of power generation require. Solar power is considered cheap only because this universal need for a backup power generation system is not factored into its stated cost.
This has been clearly demonstrated in Germany and Denmark, which have more solar power than any other countries in Europe, and where the power costs are approximately 150% as high as the average of power costs in France, England, or Sweden. The same is true in California and Texas. Without exception, in every locale where solar power has been introduced as a major source of power, electricity costs rise, usually by about 50% over conventional power. To speculate that solar power will lower energy costs is folly which contradicts documented reality. In addition, countries which have installed large solar installations have failed to lower their CO2 emissions, belying its principal rationale as a method for reducing global warming.
In her third bullet point, Ms. Reeder states that Morgnec Road Solar LLC has made a number of concessions to the county in regard to forests, wetlands, etc. None of this is true. All they have agreed to do is what they are required to do by state regulations. They have steadfastly resisted any efforts to get additional concessions, and in the letter of 3/24/21 from Morgnec Road Solar’s attorney David Beugelmans to Mr. Yeager, the Kent County attorney, they stated very clearly in paragraphs 2a, b, and c that if they could cut corners and get adjacent property owners not to object to their skimping on some of the landscaping and other boundary requirements they would do so. Their intent to minimize their landscaping obligations is clearly stated there.
Lastly, Ms. Reeder feels that the $80 million cost of the project will be a great boon to Kent County’s economy. In reality most of the money will go to the makers of the solar panels and to the specialized contractors who construct solar projects, none of whom are in Kent County or adjacent counties. Some local companies might get grading, landscaping, asphalt or cement projects, which are transient, but little else. After installation even the monitoring of the power generation will be done remotely. The only permanent local jobs for Kent County would be low wage maintenance functions for a few people cutting grass, etc. The project will be surrounded by a chain-link fence which is butt-ugly and will be inadequately landscaped.
In contrast to Ms. Reeder’s “win-win” point of view, in actuality this is a lose-lose project, in which Kent County and Chestertown lose their prime area for expansion and potential development of further amenities for the town, and lose the principal gateway to Chestertown, which is currently a beautiful agricultural landscape, but will become disfigured and repellent for tourists arriving that way. In exchange, Kent County gets nothing of significance from Morgnec Road Solar LLC, gets no high-paying long term jobs, and sacrifices the multiple other much more positive uses for this property.
The Kent County Commissioners demonstrated their in-depth and correct analysis of this project in arriving at their conclusion to oppose it (as the Chestertown Town Council had earlier done.) and they should be supported and applauded for their thoughtful effort to look after the best interests of county residents. It should be unambiguously recognized that the only benefits of this project are to the profits of a private power company which has shown no concern whatsoever for the future welfare of Kent County or its residents. For those who live in Chestertown and Kent County it is a sucker deal which should be strenuously opposed.
Frank R. Lewis