County council approves DEC solar farm near Georgetown

Sussex County Council on Tuesday approved a conditional use for Delaware Electric Cooperative to build a solar farm on 40 acres near Georgetown. They approved it with a condition that, during the final site-plan phase before Sussex County Planning & Zoning, they will be required to include a “screen” of landscaping from neighboring properties.

The 28,000-panel solar farm would be located about on about 40 acres just west of Georgetown, southeast of Trap Pond Road and northeast of Road 518 (Substation Road). The project is proposed to be completed in two phases, with the first consisting of about 16,000 panels, or 4 megawatts of power, and the second about 12,000 panels, or about 3 megawatts of power.

In total, representatives from DEC said, if the two phases are completed in full, they would be able to power about 870 homes. In August, Terry Jaywork, attorney for the co-op, explained that he has been told that the benefits in the first year alone, with the first phase of 16,000 in place, would be the equivalent of removing about 12,600 pounds of carbon from the air or taking about 1,200 automobiles off the road.

Other conditions that the P&Z recommended and the county council included in their approval include downward lighting, fencing and a gate, and a clause that said if the facility was not operational for 12 months at any point in time, the land would be returned to its original state within 12 months after that.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver said at the Sept. 18 council meeting that she had also researched the possibility of lead leaking from the panels, as that had been brought up as a concern by opponents in public hearings, but she said she couldn’t find anything to support those concerns. Councilman George Cole said the Delaware Department of Natural Resources would also look at the application, as will other state agencies, and they would regulate them if there were any lead contamination in the future.

Mark Neilson, project manager and vice president of staff services at DEC had said in recent public hearings that a weekly maintenance check would be done on all the panels and that the lead that is used is between a tempered glass plane and plastic.

“It would only come out if it were broken or delaminated, and we would see that,” he emphasized, adding that they have a 25-year warranty on the panels.

Jaywork explained in August that the co-op is constructing the facility as an “initial step to comply with the state statute called the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Act, which requires the co-op to adopt comparable programs imposed upon retail electric suppliers; the retail energy suppliers have to get 25 percent of their energy from renewable energy sources by 2025 and 3.5 percent of that has to be solar-generated.”

He said they are not only being consistent with that, but that it was “kind of mandated.”

He also said they would be purchasing the panels from MoTech, a Newark-based solar panel manufacturer, and reiterated that they hoped the work would be done using about 40 full-time temporary Delaware-based construction workers.

Substation Road resident Paul Reed had expressed his opposing views at both the P&Z and council hearings.

“This is totally going to destroy the value of our home. Who is going to want to buy my home and look at [thousands of] solar panels in the front yard? I am all for green energy, but I am going to be looking at 28,000 solar panels with a 10-foot chainlink fence for the rest of my life, because nobody’s going to want to buy my property.”

Several of the council members cited the recommendation of approval from the P&Z, the state and federal regulations that mandate that utilities obtain a certain amount of their energy from renewable resources, and their comfort that, with the conditions placed on the co-op, the views of the opponents were addressed. They approved the conditional use with a unanimous vote of 5-0.