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County considers Mountís solar farm request

Ike Wilson
Frederick News-Post

(3/25) Frederick County's first solar farm, valued at about $60 million, seems to be on the road to approval.

The county's Board of Appeals on Thursday discussed a request to construct a thin film photovoltaic solar farm in Emmitsburg, but decided to delay action until the applicants provide an agreement or proof of interest in the project and the Historic Preservation Commission renders its findings.

The project is expected to employ an average of 75 workers with a peak of 150 during construction. More than half of those workers would be classified as local employees. Once the project is in operation the solar installation will not be regularly staffed, according to a statement from Constellation Energy, applicant for the project.

Construction is scheduled to begin in June and completed by the middle of 2012.

The solar farm would be built on 100 acres owned by Mount St. Mary's University. The project will front College Lane, which is the old Mechanicstown Road, zoning administrator Larry W. Smith said.

Example of solar panels to be used on Mount Solar farm

The appeals board members and Ed Hatter, who owns a 175-acre farm adjacent to the proposed site, raised a number of concerns, including the visual impact the project will have, as well as noise and glare.

"The concept is good, but I think there are impacts that need to be considered," Hatter said. "What's the impact to property values? I have an 1850s house and the visual impact is terribly important. I think it's important to come up with a plan that mitigates visual impacts."

Attorney Andrew DiPasquale of Miles and Stockbridge law firm, speaking for applicants Constellation Energy and Mount St. Mary's, said, "Our expectation is we're going to handle the mitigating issues this board or the planning commission raise."

"Mount St. Mary's University has been good neighbors for many years, and we intend to be the same," DiPasquale said.

DiPasquale submitted a report from the Maryland Environmental Service, a third-party consultant hired by Constellation Energy, showing the project would have no measurable impacts on neighboring areas.

The project will be constructed to advance the state's clean horizon initiative intended to spur large-scale renewable energy projects in the state, Smith said.

The state issued a request for proposals offering long-term power purchase agreements to clean energy developers that could place renewable power on the power grid. The state accepted the proposal submitted by Constellation Energy and Mount St. Mary's University to develop a 15.9-megawatt DC solar farm on the university campus.

A part of the land needed for the project is zoned institutional, which requires approval to operate a nongovernmental utility in the agricultural district, according to an eight-page justification statement for the special exception request to the appeals board from the university and Constellation Energy.

The facility will be fenced and access restricted to alleviate safety and security concerns, the statement said.

Mount St. Mary's University President Thomas Powell said the school views the partnership with the state and Constellation Energy as one that strengthens its commitment to the promotion and creation of clean energy and one that continues the "greening of the Mount."

Powell said it is the intent of the university that construction of the project on its grounds will allow the students to be on the forefront of responsible land use and creation of renewable energy resources.

The conversion of sunlight energy into electricity is one of the cleanest and environmentally benign methods for large scale electricity production. The proposed solar farm will use photovoltaic panels capable of converting about 20 percent of sunlight into electricity.

Constellation Energy has a 20-year lease agreement with Mount St. Mary's for the project and the property would be available for future agricultural activities, if deemed appropriate, after the lease expires, according to the justification statement.

The appeals board will continue to discuss the proposal at its April meeting.

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