Union Bridge discusses solar project

The people of Union Bridge met Thursday night with the mayor and Town Council, members of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission and a representative from Citizens UB Solar LLC, which plans to build a roughly 50-acre, 10-megawatt solar power facility on land that abuts the town.

Citizens UB Solar owns the land formerly known as the “Buckey Property,” farmland that extends mostly outside the town limits but which does push into town to the intersection of W. Locust and Whyte streets. This is where the company would like to generate power to be sold — perhaps to nearby Lehigh Cement — and Maryland Renewable Energy Credits, which utilities could purchase from Citizens UB Solar to prove they are satisfying state regulations, according to Managing Director Brian Morrissey.


But that first requires obtaining a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the state Public Service Commission, and that commission is awaiting the opinion of the town of Union Bridge in the matter.

As Town Attorney John McGuire told those gathered Thursday, the majority of the land lies in the county, where current zoning allows for solar panels, but the Planning and Zoning Commission has been reviewing whether to recommend to the mayor and council to allow a zoning exemption for the portion in the town limits.

“One of the reasons why we are all here tonight is to hear from you as citizens as to whether you support, don’t support,” he said. “We are getting close to the point of making those decisions, so if you have other things to say, tonight is really the time to say them.”

Among the public comments were voiced a number of concerns about the appearance of the panels as seen from the town, and the species of trees the company plans to plant as a buffer where the acreage approaches the town.

But resident Andrew Larson asked the most basic and salient question for many people there.

“How will this benefit the town?” he asked.

“There are a number of potential benefits, one of which is more tax revenue,” Morrissey said, which would stem from the town annexing some portion of county land his company owns. “Initial proposals we have sent to the town are about $80,000 per year in additional tax revenue.”

That land could also allow the expansion of the town’s water and sewer water treatment plant, said Mayor Perry Jones, a key ingredient for any further growth in Union Bridge.

“We can’t build houses if we don’t have a sewer plant that is expanded,” he said.

Morrissey noted that while Citizens UB Solar would like to sell electricity to Lehigh, in part because the cement company could make use of all of it, the town could benefit from the new power source.

“I have already talked to them about it because we use a lot of power for our water and sewer plant,” Jones said. “That is a big chunk out of our budget every year.”

If the town gives a thumbs-up to the Public Service Commission and that commission gives its permission, Morrissey said the construction process would last about six months and would employ local workers at prevailing wage.

“We anticipate the permitting process to run into early 2019,” he said. “Hopefully we are starting construction around this time next year to finish up by the end of the year.”