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Solar panels replacing too many trees

The installation of solar panels is destroying our forests.

In Charles County, the most serious threat to our environment may well be solar energy as hundreds of acres of mature forests are threatened by industrial size solar panel installations. Overwhelming public opposition to pitting solar energy against forests enforces the obvious inconsistency wherein one environmental asset is sacrificed for another — and there must be better places to put solar panels. Surely, hundreds of acres of parking lots, vacant shopping centers, and untilled farm land would provide more tenable alternatives.

However, as long as jurisdictions like Charles County are allowed to ignore state statutes and comprehensive plans intended to preserve forests, solar energy will continue to cancel the ecological services provided by forests. MD Solar 1, LLC plans to cut down over 200 acres of mature forest In Charles County and replace it with a solar energy project to provide green electrical power to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. However, the project will require the permanent degradation of existing wetlands, which requires a permit administered by the Maryland Department of the Environment. In typical fashion, the permit applicant has ignored a key provision of state regulations requiring alternative site analyses to ensure that the selected site has the least environmental impacts.

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State regulation precludes the department of the environment from issuing a wetlands permit unless the applicant has made a good faith effort to find alternative sites. In theory, since this applicant has failed to analyze the environmental impacts at other sites, the permit can’t be awarded and the project will at least be stalled until the applicant complies with the department’s regulations.

The Solar 1 project never should have gotten this far into the process with such a glaring flaw in their application. If department of the environment follows its own regulations, the permit will not be awarded and, coincidentally, hundreds of acres of mature forest will be spared.

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Ken Hastings

The writer is with the Mason Springs Conservancy.

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