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Decision delayed on rules for solar farms in county

By Brian Gilliland

(Oct. 24, 2014) Three issues with the pending update to 2011 legislation formed the basis for another delay in zoning for solar-powered electricity production in Worcester, a delay the board promised to end during the next legislative session.

The 2011 law provides for three designations by proposed output: small, medium and large at 5 kilowatts, between 5-200kW and 200+kW respectively. The new plan will add a utility-grade designation that is intended to cap large at 2.5 megawatts and cover that output and anything greater.

The first problem pointed out by attorney Mark Cropper representing a corporation and landowner is that V-1 zoning, which previously would have allowed the open-ended large designation, was not included in the new utility designation. Cropper said his clients have already spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of the project, now endangered by this update.

The second designation, was not included in the new utility  came from another attorney, Robert Busler, who said he was involved with both the Pocomoke City and Perdue solar fields operating today. He said the designations of large and utility should be further split, because there is too much difference between a field producing kilowatts and one producing megawatts.

The third issue came from the commissioners themselves. With elections around the corner and a number of members retiring, the process already under way for some eight months would be further endangered if potential new members of the board needed to be brought up to speed on where the current efforts remain. Essentially, the commissioners and developers both are wary of starting back at square one, feeling it might be unfair to those already working and the money already spent in pursuit of solar energy.

Several commissioners felt they were not yet ready to vote in light of these and other small problems found with the existing updates, including legislative bantering about the definitions of “vegetative screens” vs. “vegetative barriers,” but also said that they were conscious of the time element involved.

In the end, the board resolved to bring the issue back to the forefront during the next legislative session scheduled for Nov. 18, and all of the board members said they would be prepared to vote on the updates, including any potential changes made in light of the problems outlined above, at that time.

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