(3/2016) Many things attract people to Frederick County, among them our history, cultural amenities, and scenic views. We are known for beautiful farmland vistas awash in sunshine.
These same wide swaths of agricultural land have attracted the attention of companies that want to construct large solar arrays. Acres of solar panels would be able to generate electricity that could be connected to utilities’ power grid. Companies have filed applications to install large arrays in Creagerstown, Keymar and Walkersville, among other places in the county for a total of over 500
Solar is a plentiful, clean source of energy. It will help us to power our bright future. It reduces air and water pollution. It gives our local power grid greater resiliency and security. And it provides business opportunities through land leases, installation, and investment.
Already Mount St. Mary’s University hosts a large solar array. The Town of Emmitsburg uses solar to power its town facilities and the fire hall. The Town of Walkersville also has invested in solar technology. Glamourview Farm along Route 194 installed panels on a barn roof to help power its dairy operation. Solar panels glimmer from rooftops of individual houses across the county, too.
Everyone agrees that increasing solar power is important. How we allow the industry to grow in Frederick is key. What size solar utility projects should we allow? Where should we let these projects to be located? What impact will they have on adjacent properties or on tourism? The projects proposed in our county are unprecedented in scale. In Creagerstown, 55 acres is proposed for solar
panels. Along Biggs Ford Road in Walkersville, a 140-acre array is planned. The largest project would cover 220 acres in Keymar.
There are many details that need to be considered. The County had to address similar questions when cell towers started being built 15 to 20 years ago. Just as we did with cell towers, we have temporarily put on hold any new large solar utility applications until we have developed a plan or strategy for solar in Frederick County. This does not affect people who want to install panels to power
their home or business, small community projects, or municipal projects.
Last month, I invited a group of stakeholders to participate in a roundtable discussion about the issues surrounding solar utility projects. They represented a broad array of interests, including the Farm Bureau, tourism, historic preservation, soil conservation, real estate, the Board of Zoning Appeals, and the solar power industry. We also heard from the public. We discussed whether to allow
large utility projects on agricultural land, or limit their placement to industrial or commercial properties. If we allow solar arrays to be built on agricultural land, do we allow them in Priority Preservation Areas or on farms with prime soil? Could we allow them on a portion of a farm, for instance taking up no more than 10 percent of the acreage? We also need to consider how to handle
properties designated as historic or sensitive areas.
A recurring issue was the impact of solar arrays on the landscape. Stakeholders discussed the viewshed – what people see when they look across the land. Neighbors are understandably concerned with what they will see from their homes and how their property value will be affected. With tourism bringing $1 million a day into the county, we also need to think about what visitors will see as they
drive through our rural areas and visit our well-known tourist attractions.
Once an array is no longer being used, we need to require equipment to be removed, as we do with cell towers.
Frederick County needs to develop a strategy for solar. We want to foster solar technology. We need to balance the legitimate competing needs and interests in our community. In other words, we need to do it right. County staff will develop recommendations based on the roundtable discussion and research on other jurisdictions’ experiences. The next step will be to introduce legislation to the
County Council for their consideration and public process. The process is filled with opportunities for you to be heard. In fact, because these projects are utilities, the Maryland Public Service Commission also plays a role. That agency will hold a public hearing on the array proposed for the intersection of Creagerstown and Old Frederick Roads. The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday,
March 10, at Winchester Hall in Frederick.
Make your voice heard as we decide how we want Frederick County’s landscape to look in the years ahead!