Obviously, my expressed views on the proposed Morgenc Road Solar project have raised hackles and engendered a not atypical firestorm response.
Let’s face it. The crux of the ensuing debate over the proposed Morgnec Road Solar Project is not a question of the near and long-term merits of sourcing solar power to increase and enhance our existing fossil fuel fired electric power generation capability. The advisability of such action is widely acknowledged. Nor is it the cost to the public of local utility scale solar farm construction as those costs will be funded with private capital supplied by Morgnec Road Solar LLC. Differing views and projections of prospective consumer cost savings associated with solar power (which, by the way, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports currently average between 2 and 11 cents per kilowatt hour depending on location and are trending up) are also not the main issue. The fact is that the key matter of contention in this debate is where utility scale renewable power facilities can and should be located in Kent County.
Kent County’s present utility scale solar facility siting policy was adopted over a decade ago based on the recommendations of a locally appointed Renewable Energy Task Force made up of county government officials, residents, and representatives of several environmental groups who were tasked with recommending policies and ordinance amendments in response to growing resident interest in renewable energy and several requests to construct local utility scale renewable energy facilities. No representatives of renewable energy industry or independent renewable energy experts were appointed to the Task Force. The Task Force met for a year and recommended statutory changes to County zoning rules that principally focused on protecting the County’s rural aesthetics, farmland, and cultural heritage sites. Testimony and text amendments submitted by renewable energy industry experts indicating that proposed zoning changes were unsatisfactory were ignored. In 2011, the County commissioners approved, and the Planning Commission adopted Task Force recommendations virtually unchanged. In 2016, in response to growing local concerns that solar facility siting requirements were too restrictive, the Task Force reconvened to consider utility scale solar facility placement on agricultural land. They recommended less restrictive zoning ordinance amendments that did not advance beyond the Planning Commission.
Both the economics and efficacy of solar power generation have evolved exponentially for the better in the decade since Kent County adopted its utility scale solar facility siting policy and ordinances. It’s about time for Kent County to acknowledge the wisdom of facilitating rather than obstructing local solar power generation capability and accept the fact that solar energy experts – not County residents and government officials – are best qualified to identify the most cost effective and productive sites for utility scale solar facility construction and operation. Expanding solar energy facility siting options and accepting expert opinions on optimal locations for them will inevitably result in the most efficient and productive generation of solar energy power and best possible electric service rates for local consumers. Such action need not contravene historic site preservation and active farmland conservation interests. The goal should be to find an appropriate and thoughtful balance between both pursuits.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons for Morgnec Road Solar LLC to persist in pursuing approval to site the facility on the Clark family property in lieu of in the industrial use zoned areas of the Route 301 corridor which is largely heavily wooded and where existing electric power substations are too small to support the solar energy conversion requirements of the proposed project. The fact is that economically and logistically viable alternative sites have not been found in the Rte. 301 corridor. Foregoing this opportunity to implement near term, environmentally friendly, large scale enhancement of our electric power generation capability to reserve the Morgnec Road project site for Chestertown’s questionable future housing development expansion needs – given that other more suitable, closer in undeveloped residential use zoned tracts do exist – simply doesn’t make good land resource management sense.
As noted in my previous letter to the Editor, the Public Service Commission (PSC) will be the ultimate arbiter in this debate. The Commission has scheduled a virtual public hearing on Morgnec Road Solar LLC’s application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) granting state approval to site the project in the proposed location for Thursday, November 4 at 6:30 pm. Residents who agree that this project should go forward as proposed are urged to make their support known to PSC. You can register to speak at the hearing by sending an email to email@example.com by noon on November 1st. Written comments are due by November 10 and may be submitted either electronically to the Commission’s Public Comment Dropbox which can be accessed through the Commission’s website at www.psc.state.md.us or by first class mail directed to Andrew S. Johnston, Executive Secretary, Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St., 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202. All comments and inquiries should reference Case No. 9499.