Sussex council approves conditional-use request for solar farm

GEORGETOWN — Amid opposition from neighboring property owners, Sussex County Council has given the green light for a proposed solar farm west of Dagsboro.

Following a public hearing, County Council at its April 2 meeting granted a conditional use of land in an AR-1 agricultural/residential district requested by Millsboro Solar, LLC. Council’s action supported county planning and zoning’s previous recommendation for approval on Feb. 28.

SunEnergy1, one of the leading utility-scale solar developers in the United States, is leasing the property from Carla Rickards and family. Plans are for a six-megawatt grid production project.

“We are working with Delmarva Power and also PJM,” said Linda Nwadike, engineer and project manager for SunEnergy1 based in Mooresville, North Carolina near Charlotte. “There is no storage on the site. This will go into the grid.”

PJM Interconnection is a regional transmission organization that coordinates movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of Delaware and 12 other states as well as the District of Columbia.

Ms. Nwadike, in testimony Feb. 14 before the planning and zoning commission, said the Millsboro Solar, LLC project would take approximately five years for the system to return and pay for itself.

The proposed solar farm is planned on about 79 acres out of a 91-acre parcel on the north and south sides of Nine Foot Road (SR 26). Part of solar farm would border Fox Run Road, where there is one bordering residential property owned by Adrienne and Bryan Miller, who opposed the solar farm location.

As they did at the Feb. 14 public hearing before the planning and zoning commission, Mr. and Ms. Miller voiced opposition before council, citing noise, uncertainty and fear of the unknown, impact on property values and most importantly health concerns and potential effects of electromagnetic radiation.

“I am a bone marrow transplant survivor,” said Ms. Miller. “Does it or not cause cancer? Someone like me who has been though total body radiation … can anybody guarantee me that I will be OK?”

The proposed project has been in the works for about four years, initially spurred by the late Bruce Rickards, who wanted utility scale solar for this land but passed away since starting on this project, Ms. Nwadike said.

“He was very pro-solar, clean energy and just as a family we want to proceed with his wishes,” Andrew Willey said of his grandfather’s wishes in testimony at the Feb. 14 commission hearing.

The Millers, who moved to the Fox Run Road property in July 2016, claim SunEnergy1 never spoke to them about this project. They learned of it through county notice for public hearings.

“In this time not one (SunEnergy1) representative reached out to us,” Mr. Miller said.

“I have to live beside something I never knew anything about, not in four years,” Ms. Miller said.

“We did not know about the solar farm. If we had known, we’d never have bought our house. Unfortunately, it wasn’t disclosed to settlement.” Mr. Miller said. “We are concerned about property resale. We are the only residential property other than Ms. Rickards’ property. We are not in financial position to just up and move and sell our house. We’re kind of stuck.”

Their property would be slightly more than 500 feet from the closest solar panels.

“That should be a safe distance, shouldn’t it?” said county councilman Samuel Wilson Jr., R-Georgetown.

The Millers do not believe so.

“I don’t think the barrier is enough privacy,” said Mr. Miller. “I don’t see any facts on the research that is presented today. We’ve done a lot of research.”

“It sounds to me that you have two concerns,” said county councilman John Rieley, R-Millsboro. “One is privacy and one is potentially emissions coming from this that may have an adverse health effect. I am not aware that solar panels emit anything. They receive energy from the sun, convert it into electricity and send it online. Is there any research or evidence they emit anything at all?”

Ms. Miller said their research found some studies, but she had no data on hand and could not speak to specfics. She emphasized, “I’m not just in a position where I can afford to take that chance.”

“I have read also that the land is not to be used for farming for I think 15 to 20 years,” Ms. Miller said. “Now if it does something to the land that it cannot be farmed for 15 to 20 years, what does it emit? If it does that to the land, what does it do?”

Mr. Rieley, whose family operates a multi-generational farm near Millsboro, said there are no known negative effects from power lines that run through the Rieley family’s farm property.

“My question, maybe, is there actually a chance?” Mr. Rieley said. “I am not aware of any emissions … or any studies that show that they emit anything.”

According to Ms. Nwadike the solar panels are made with sand and glass, are non-toxic and do not have emissions or radiation.

“EPA regulates this as well. So, it’s not toxic at all,” Ms. Nwadike said.

There would obviously be some noise during construction, said Ms. Nwadike. Once in operation she said there would only be “humming” from the transformers, which will be centrally located inside so it will not be detected from the roadway.

The Millsboro Solar, LLC project would incorporate fencing and vegetative buffers comprised of shrubs, trees and grass. With final approval, construction would take about five months, utilizing about 100 workers. Once in operation the solar farm would be monitored locally.

With council’s approval, the proposal will go through a site plan process that would “require all of the entities that are appropriate, including the (Sussex) Conservation District,” said Sussex County Planning and Zoning Director Janelle Cornwell.

The Department of Transportation already determined that a TIS (Traffic Impact Study) is not needed, Ms. Nwadike said.

This is the first solar array project in Delaware for SunEnergy1, which has facilities in North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia and Maryland, Ms. Nwadike said.

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