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United States: Solar company eyes farmland

Published at: Oct 31, 2011
source: delmarvanow!com

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Maryland is beginning to attract solar development. The state's renewable energy goal of 20% by 2022 with 2% of that coming from solar has provided a growing market. Currently, a California company is proposing a massive 12.6 MW facility northwest of Berlin, MD. The project is scheduled to begin construction in 2014.

SNOW HILL -- A California company is proposing a massive field of solar panels to be located outside Berlin that could deliver clean, renewable energy across the state of Maryland by 2015.

Worcester County's Technical Review Committee will review on Nov. 9 a proposal from Intrepid Solar Energy LLC to built a 12.6-megawatt solar power generation facility. The 93-acre site would be located on existing farmland, just off the junction of Route 50 and Old Ocean City Road, northwest of Berlin.

There is no mention of how many solar panels, or specifically what kind of panels will be used -- but if it is built to specifications, it would be 10 times as large as a recent solar project unveiled by Perdue Farms Inc.

It hasn't yet been determined whether the project would use stationary panels or ones that tilt to follow the path of the sun across the sky, according to the proposal.

It would deliver wholesale electricity to Delmarva Power's Worcester substation, located east of the project site. A preliminary study concluded that the solar energy could be distributed to the "major load centers" in Maryland.

The proposal also calls for a one-year period of construction to begin in 2014, a job that would employ up to 135 people during the build. Once complete, a skeleton crew of up to four people is all the facility would need for routine monitoring and maintenance. The site would be secured by a perimeter of 8-foot-tall barbed-wire fence. Intrepid Solar Energy anticipates the array would have a 30-year operating life span.

It hasn't been finalized but the site also may include 20-25 acres of forested area as a conservation easement to comply with state and county forest conservation requirements, the proposal states.

The company would lease the site from third-generation Berlin farmer John Taylor Jr. His family has owned the land for about 40 years, while their home farm is nearly 100 years old, he said.

Maryland lawmakers have passed a mandate that by the year 2022, one-fifth of electricity sold by utilities must come from renewable resources. A follow-up law in 2007 stated that two percent of that must come from solar power.

Because the farm is so close to that Delmarva Power substation, Taylor said his family has fielded several offers from others with interest in a solar farm project.

"Companies from all over the country are looking in Maryland now," he said.

Taylor also said swapping corn or soybeans for solar panels is a step toward diversification in a challenging time for farmers who face not just regional dry spells but a commodities market made unstable by the global economy.

"It's not really dependent on the weather like the crops are," he said. "If we have a dry year, we're still going to make money on the solar. If it's dry and the sun shines a lot, it's good. You plant corn or soybeans, it's a one-crop-a-year shot."

Several steps are necessary before any sort of construction moves forward, according to Jennifer Grasso, Worcester County's zoning administrator.

This initial proposal, if approved by the Technical Review Committee, then would go before the county's Planning Commission, and then be subject to a public hearing before the Worcester County Commissioners. A vote to move forward from the commissioners would then lead to a more-detailed site plan proposal coming back to the TRC. Finally, the planning commission would hear the plan again.

The proposed solar array is larger than another recently-unveiled photovoltaic project on the Shore.

In October, an array of 5,000 solar panels powering Salisbury's Perdue headquarters was unveiled. The Perdue installation can generate up to 1.2 megawatts.

Intrepid Solar Energy is based in Pleasanton, Calif., according to its proposal. The company incorporated in Delaware in October 2010.

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