County P&Z recommends approval for solar farm near Georgetown


Sussex County Planning & Zoning commissioners on Aug. 9 recommended approval for Delaware Electric Co-Operative for a two-phase 28,000-panel solar farm, to 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, 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 approved 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 return to its original state within 12 months after that.

Jaywork explained 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. He said they hoped the work would be done using about 40 full-time temporary Delaware-based construction workers.

Attorney John Serkovik voiced his support of the project in the public comment portion of the hearing, saying he represented the contract seller, Heritage Lands LLC. “This gives my client the ability to retain the property and develop the adjacent property residentially.” He said his clients purchased the lands in 2006, settling in 2007, when the market wasn’t great, and the project gives them the chance to enhance their development capabilities and add a “green affect.”

“With the 128 acres retained [adjacent to the 40 proposed for the solar farm], they think they can develop that successfully” he said.

Commercial land broker and Lewes resident Sandra Ware expressed support for the project, saying she is in favor of “the stewardship of the land and the green effect” it would have and the enhancement of nearby properties. She noted that there are currently three farms in the area for sale now.

Substation Road resident Paul Reed expressed 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 said. “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 if they are going to develop the land, why not put the solar panels on the homes? Why fill the land with solar panels and a chain-link fence with barbed wire? And we are going to have to look at that?”

He continued by saying he worked “really hard to get where I am today, and I don’t want to see something destroy the value of my home.”

When asked about how he did find out about the public hearing, Reed said he saw the sign for the public hearing behind a real estate sign and had then moved it so more people might see it.

Chairman Robert Wheatley said notification is a “courtesy” and the county is not obligated to send letters to people within 200 feet of a property that could be affected by an application — a position that has been stated by County officials in the past when there have been concerns about notification of public hearings.

“We put it in the newspaper and put the sign up and, hopefully, one of these days we will revise some of those rules and get it on the Internet, etc…” he said.

He also reiterated that the P&Z merely makes a recommendation to Sussex County Council, who will have the final say. That hearing will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

“You’ll have another opportunity to speak, and they make the final decision, in case you didn’t see that.”

Resident Donna Atkinson asked about the size of the transfer boxes and as the panels age, could lead leach into the groundwater. She also asked what would happen if, because of the possibility of legislative changes — as had already been mentioned — Phase 2 didn’t get built.

“What will happen in the future — will the panels just be abandoned?”

Wheatley said that is something the council could address in conditions on the project, should they approve the application. He also said that, just because people didn’t receive notices, “It doesn’t mean they weren’t sent.”

Resident Carol Reed asked about health effects, specifically cancer, saying she had children. Mark Neilson of Century Engineering replied that the DC power produced by solar panels — which is then converted to AC power for consumer use — doesn’t produce electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Extensive discussion has focused on whether EMFs can cause negative health effects on humans. He said the substation, the poles, the wires and the transformers “won’t pose any hazard or risk to anybody.”

(For information on EMFs, visit the World Health Organization’s Web site at www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index.html.)

This week, Bob Light, CEO of Flexera, said, “Anybody that installs solar is helping the industry. It helps us get closer to what our future is going to be — what concerns me is that they are doing it for the wrong reasons.”

He said that, by building the proposed solar farm, Delaware Electric Co-Operative is “significantly discouraging their members from producing their own SRECs” because the co-op does not purchase them from member/owners. He said SRECs, or solar renewable energy credits, can be worth from $50 to about $300, and in New Jersey have sold for more than $700.

“In addition, rather than having distribution of solar, they are concentrating it. Distribution would be to have solar panels on 1,000 homes. By doing that, you do not have the load on the infrastructure, where you dump a lot of the electricity at one place.”

Mark Neilson, vice president of staff services at Delaware Electric Co-Op and project manager for the solar farm, countered that “In no way does this inhibit any of our members to have their own solar systems. We actually have grants available for that and net metering.”

As for the purchase of the SRECs, he said Delmarva Power is required to buy them and “we are not. The Delaware Co-Op and the municipal systems, such as the City of Seaford, etc. legislatively have language [in Delaware law] that is comparable to the RES, but we have greater flexibility — nowhere does it require us to purchase SRECs.”

He said they have close to 400 members who currently have solar systems, and they can sell their SRECs to Delmarva Power or to anyone inside or outside of the state.

Chairman Wheatley ended the public hearing by thanking the people who came out and said, “We are your neighbors. We live there, too. Be assured your concerns are certainly taken under advisement, and we appreciate your being here.”

Later in the meeting, the P&Z recommended approval for the project. The application will now be forwarded to Sussex County Council for their consideration.

The full audio of this, and all P&Z hearings, can be found online at sussexcountyde.gov. Minutes are available, as well, usually in the week or two following the meeting.