By this time next year, more than 2,000 solar panels outside New Windsor could be helping power local homes and businesses, according to a solar energy company official.
The concept site plan for the Wakefield Solar Energy Center was presented at a recent meeting of the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission. The community sharing solar project would be available to Baltimore Gas and Electric customers who wish to purchase locally generated solar energy, according to Brian Quinlan, president and CEO of Calvert Energy LLC.
Quinlan estimates the project will produce 1,035,000 kilowatt-hours annually, which could power about 95 homes for a year.
Calvert Energy plans to install the 2,100 panels on an 8.69-acre site, a vacant field on the south side of New Windsor Road (Md. 31) at Wakefield Valley Road, next to Babylon Vault Company. The proposal is for the panels to cover 6.92 acres, said Laura Matyas, county development review coordinator, at the commission meeting. She said solar is a permitted use in the zoning district where the property is located. The southern border is defined by the Wakefield Valley railroad.
“The main interest for the location is that BGE has the largest target for community solar capacity and the site is in BGE territory,” Quinlan wrote in an email.
Customers who want solar energy do not have to live within a certain proximity to the panels, according to Quinlan, but must be in the service territory where the system is located.
“The electricity does not actually get transmitted to the customer,” Quinlan wrote. “The customer receives a credit on their bill from BGE for purchasing the electricity. The physical electricity is sent to BGE’s distribution system.”
He hopes the panels will be operational in the first quarter of 2021.
After the panels are installed, they would need relatively little upkeep. There would be two maintenance periods of one to two days “annually to perform standard electrical and mechanical inspections of the site and any maintenance that may be required,” Quinlan wrote.
Before the panels can be installed, according to Matyas, the developer’s plan needs to be reviewed by several county development review agencies and approved by the planning and zoning commission. The project proposal was brought before the commission last month for a concept site plan review and to consider the developer’s request that the setback between the solar panels and neighboring property lines to be reduced.
“Our code does permit that the setbacks can be reduced on this type of project,” Matyas said, “if there is a landscape buffer provided.”
In exchange for reducing the setback from 100 feet to 50 feet, the developer proposed a visual barrier of evergreen trees and shrubs around the panels, according to the proposal. A fence would stand between the panels and the landscaping. The trees would be at least 5 feet tall when planted, while the shrubs, positioned between rows of trees, would be one-and-a-half feet tall at planting, the plan proposes. Quinlan said in the meeting the trees may grow up to 20-feet tall.
The commission members unanimously voted to approve the setback modification. They also voted to delegate the final approval of the plan, after it has been reviewed by county agencies, to the commission’s chairperson, Cynthia Cheatwood. The planning and zoning commission has the power to delegate certain decisions to its chair. The final approval will be considered at a later date, which has not yet been determined.