County council to visit proposed solar-farm site prior to vote

A week after Sussex County Planning & Zoning commissioners recommended approval for a conditional use for Delaware Electric Co-Op to build a solar farm near Georgetown, the county council, which has the final say on such hearings, deferred action so they can view the site themselves.

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 Delaware Electric Co-Op said that if the two phases are completed in full, they would be able to power about 870 homes. Terry Jaywork, attorney for the co-op, said he has been told that the benefits 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.

The P&Z recommended approval of the application with conditions including downward lighting, fencing and a gate, and a clause that said if it was not operational for 12 months the land would be returned to its original state within 12 months after that.

Jaywork explained this week, as he had to P&Z last week, that the co-op is constructing the facility as an “initial step to comply with the state statue 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.

Mark Neilson, project manager and vice president of staff services at Delaware Electric Co-Op answered some of the questions that came up at the P&Z meeting, specifically about electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and lead that could possibly leech from broken or “delaminated” panels.

He compared the studies of EMFs and measurements of other solar farms, saying Perdue’s Bridgeville site “measured zero” and that the co-op’s transformers would be even farther from the road, at 284 feet.

“Some studies say EMFs cause leukemia in children. Other studies say it doesn’t do anything... A typical microwave oven is 38.2, a personal computer is 40 and a flat screen TV is 14.8. The truth is EMF is out there, but there is nothing conclusive about it except that people are exposed to much more inside their home than near a solar farm,” concluded Neilson.

He also said a weekly maintenance check would be done on all the panels and 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.

Substation Road resident Paul Reed expressed his opposing views, saying he had never received any type of notice about the application and adding that his house is “straight in front of it.”

“This is totally going to destroy the value of our home,” he told the council, repeating an assertion that he had shared with P&Z. “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.”

He spoke of supporters of the solar farm who have Lewes or Harrington addresses, saying “that’s not 200 feet,” referencing the county’s policy of mailing letters to property owners within 200 feet of a conditional-use application’s location. “Right across from Hopkins Creamery off of Route 9 there’s a huge substation. The people in Lewes can look at it all they want.”

He also questioned Neilson’s responses to the questions brought up at P&Z.

“How to do you prove there is not radiation? How do you prove the lead won’t leech after they deteriorate?”

“People say it’s wonderful. Well, they are not having to look at it. I urge you to go out and see it before you make any decisions.”

He reiterated that he was not against green energy but thought there were better locations.

“Why not place them on top of the landfill? Then, if there is any leakage, that land already has a special filter system in place. And there is no eyesore, no potential damage to water and investments.”

“I love dust. I love chicken manure,” he continued, referencing the AR-1 uses the land could have rather than the solar farm. “I would much rather see that than 28,000 solar panels and a chainlink fence with barbed wire. I don’t want to wake up every day and think I’m in jail.”

The council asked him to point out where he lived in relation to the proposed site and then Councilwoman Joan Deaver asked that they defer action until the council could visually inspect the site. The council voted 5-0 to defer.