Worcester Planners Discuss Water Resources, Solar Energy

BERLIN – Alternative energy and water resources were the main issues at a Worcester County Planning Commission meeting last Thursday.

Both propositions were in the preliminary stages and several sessions are expected before they can be finalized. However, even at the draft stage, they were still able to generate questions and concerns amongst commission members.

A draft of the Water Resource Element (WRE) was presented via slideshow to the assembly. The draft included a large amount of data, such as projected population growth statistics by area, maps of stormwater projects and land usage and nutrient loading rates, among other facts.

The presentation served as an introduction to the issue of water resource management and highlighted the four main county water categories: residential water, wastewater, stormwater and nonpoint source assessment.

The WRE is a required part of every county’s Comprehensive Plan and must answer questions dealing with water supply, wastewater treatment and disposal, stormwater management and the impact any of those categories might have on water resources.

Because the population for the county is projected to rise by around 9,000 by 2025 in Berlin, Pocomoke City, Showell and Snow Hill, the WRE requires a structured plan to compensate for any possible adverse environmental effects.

The slide show contained a large amount of data and was supposed to only serve as an introduction to the issue, one that will require a lot more time under review before any action is taken. Because of the layout of the presentation, Director of Department of Development and Review and Permitting Ed Tudor told the commissioners not to view the data as one big piece.

“Think of it like a compilation of short stories,” said Tudor.

A work session to further discuss the WRE and what efforts need to be made to incorporate it into the county’s Comprehensive Plan has been scheduled for Jan. 6.

The other major issue on the agenda was a look at Alternative Energy Facilities and their future in the county.

Tudor addressed the commissioners on a preliminary alternative energy policy, giving them a quick summary of the multiple sections and concentrating on the last few specifically, which dealt with the definition of alternative energy facilities.

“We’re going to characterize solar energy facilities into three categories; small, medium, and large,” Tudor said.

Specifically, Tudor explained that large solar facilities, which would encompass several acres with panels, would only be allowed in A-1, A-2, I-1, and I-2 zone areas.

“A small generator will produce five kilowatts or less and rest on an individual lot,” he said. “A medium is greater than five but less than 200 kilowatts. And a large is anything above 200 … they’re designed to connect to the power grid.”

Commissioner Brooks Clayville expressed concern that the proposed wattage might be weak.

“The classification for small and medium generators seems a bit low,” he told Tudor. “Maybe bump up the kilowatage.”

While Tudor recognized Clayville’s concern, he claimed that, statistically, the small and medium generators should provide enough power for their designated zones. However, Tudor agreed that it was something which could be examined in more detail before anything was finalized.

Another possible problem, brought up by Commissioner Wayne Hartman, was putting a limit on the percentage of a property that could be covered in solar panels.

“Can we limit solar panels to not exceed a property’s roof in square feet?,” he asked.

Hartman was troubled by the possibility of seeing residential lots all but covered in panels.
“I understand your concern,” stated Tudor, “but it is a very remote chance.”

Hartman pointed out if it wasn’t a major concern then why not place a provision in the plan limiting solar coverage to cover all bases. As with Clayville’s suggestion, Tudor recommended it be discussed at a work session in the future.

“I did not, for a minute, think we’d get to the point where a recommendation was made today,” said Tudor, referring to the need for further investigation.

A work session for the plan has been scheduled for Jan. 13. Clayville recommended that the County Commissioners be invited, a proposal which received a positive response.

One final topic that the commissioner dealt with was an application concerning agricultural protection setbacks. Because a revised application was presented at the beginning of the session, the commissioners chose to table the issue until the revised document could be studied. They will reopen discussion at their next meeting.

Commission Chair Madison Bunting, who was elected in November as a County Commissioner, presided over his final assembly last Thursday, and Clayville was voted to take his spot, with Marlene Ott rising to fill Clayville’s position as secretary.