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Anne Arundel’s first community solar project to go online this summer; three more proposed in Harwood area

The county’s first community solar project is scheduled to come online this July in Tracys Landing. Three more are being considered within a few miles of the intersection of Bayard and Sands roads in southern Anne Arundel.

The state launched a community solar pilot program in 2017. The program gives electric customers without space for their own solar arrays access to solar energy through subscriptions to use community farms capable of generating 2 megawatts of energy or less.

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The project in Tracys Landing will be called Checkerspot Community Solar Farm, a name inspired by the Maryland state insect: the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.

The solar arrays will be mounted on poles, and the panels will follow the sun from east to west quietly, said Eric Partyka, director of business development for Standard Solar said. There will only be one 10-foot-by-10-foot concrete pad for the entire 9.4-acre facility. As part of the project, the property owner has also agreed to place a conservation easement on forested land, Partyka said.

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Standard Solar creates pollinator gardens within all their solar facilities, Partyka said, planting flowers that attract bees and butterflies.

Checkerspot and the three other projects in the pipeline for consideration were submitted in 2017. That year, a moratorium on new solar projects was implemented after concerns regarding the scope of solar projects in south county.

The county changed its laws about where solar farms could be located in 2018, but those four projects are grandfathered. Future community solar projects will need to be at least 10 miles away from existing community solar. That means the land surrounding Checkerspot will be precluded from future solar development, an area that extends to Route 214 in Edgewater.

The state will need to increase its solar output in the future to meet the demands of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, passed in 2019, requiring at least 14.5% of electricity sold in Maryland must come from solar by 2028. In 2019, less than 2% of all electricity generated in Maryland was generated through solar, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Partyka said it would be hard to meet that metric without more planning.

“There has got to be a broader statewide strategy,” he said.

In Plan 2040, a long-range county land-use plan, County Executive Steuart Pittman’s administration suggests putting solar on landfills or other contaminated sites while avoiding converting agricultural land to renewable energy.

Anna Chaney, the chair of the Agriculture, Farming and Agritourism Commission, said the commission generally wants to see usable farmland stay in use. She knows of people looking for land to use for agriculture in the county and sees the need for locally grown food at sold-out farmers markets.

During a virtual community meeting in December for Harwood Solar, one of the projects still pursuing Site Development Plan approval, community members raised concerns about the appearance of the solar arrays along scenic Polling House Road.

Like Checkerspot, the Harwood Solar facility would use only a small amount of concrete, said Jesse Cutaia of Community Energy, the project’s developer. The arrays wouldn’t be permanent, and the hope is that after 25 years, the soil on the site will regenerate from the growth and decay of plants below the panels.

“Farming is about capturing sunlight to grow crops. This is a way to capture and farm sunlight on the land,” Cutaia said. “These landowners have put hundreds of acres of property into conservation easements in the county over a number of years. This is another way in which they can use their land in a way that is beneficial for both the environment and preserving open land.”

Customers interested in getting solar energy from Checkerspot can sign up for more information through CleanChoice Energy.

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