Does Annapolis Landfill Project Point to the Future of Utility Scale Solar?

Bay Journal article (2018-04-16) questioned whether a new solar facility that is sited on a closed municipal landfill can help answer the land use concerns posed by utility scale solar projects. The Annapolis Renewable Energy Park, a 16 Mega Watt solar array set on roughly 80 acres that used to be the landfill for the City of Annapolis, is largest landfill-based energy generation project in the nation according to the project’s developers.

MACo has noted that large scale solar projects can provide many benefits but also pose land use challenges that include the targeting of prime agricultural lands and open space. While the Maryland General Assembly responded to a MACo initiative during the 2017 Session by passing legislation (HB 1350) that provided a greater role for counties and municipalities in the siting of all kinds of energy generation facilities, there is still immense pressure to for solar developments on farmland and open space throughout Maryland. MACo has supported solar development on alternative sites, such as brownfields and greyfields.

The article stated that Maryland has developed an estimated 958 megawatts of solar and is second only to New York in solar development among Chesapeake Bay watershed states. Conversely, the article noted that Virginia’s market has just started to rapidly expand due to recent state legislation while Pennsylvania’s market remains stagnant due to “unfavorable” state rules.

The article discussed recent zoning actions taken by several counties in order to ensure solar facilities do disrupt the agricultural, natural, historical, or cultural fabric of their jurisdictions. The article cited Anne Arundel, Caroline, Frederick, Kent, and Talbot counties in particular.

The article also provided various viewpoints on the agricultural and land use issues posed by utility scale solar:

“It’s almost like the wild, wild West out there, and whoever gets their stake in the ground first wins,” said Colby Ferguson, government relations director of the Maryland Farm Bureau. …

“For every 1,000 acres taken out of [agricultural] production, we lose a farm,” Ferguson said. …

“These guys are coming in and dangling pots of money [in front of landowners],” said state Sen. J. B. Jennings, a Republican representing Baltimore and Harford counties, and a farmer himself. “It’s just taking up valuable farmland.” …

“How do we find something that’s balanced?” [Anne Arundel County Planning and Zoning Officer Philip] Hager asked. “It’s a very complex situation, with a lot of stakeholders.” …

“It’s unfortunate there’s a perception problem,” said Mike Volpe, vice president of Open Road Renewables, a Texas firm, and spokesman for a coalition of utility-scale solar developers. He pointed out that such projects can generate jobs and much-needed tax revenue for poor rural counties. …

“It’s cheaper to just go out to a farm field and drill ground screws and anchor to the ground,” said Paul Curran, managing director of BQ Energy LLC, the New York-based firm developing the [Annapolis] landfill project. It also took longer to plan and get regulators’ approval, Curran said, something many solar developers wouldn’t put up with.

Useful Links

HB 1350 of 2017

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Solar Energy Facility Siting

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