SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners approved plans for a utility scale solar project in Whaleyville following a public hearing Tuesday.
The commissioners voted 6-0 to approve the Gateway Solar Project, a 15.6 megawatt (AC) system to be built by Community Energy Solar Inc. on agricultural property owned by Tull Brothers LLC.
“We anticipate construction in the summer of 2018,” said Tom Anderson of Community Energy.
Anderson told the commissioners that since 2008, his company had developed 700 megawatts of solar energy projects in 10 states. In Whaleyville, he said the company had agreed to a 30-year lease that would allow for the construction of 52,000 solar panels on 130 acres of a 425 acre site. The agriculturally zoned property, which currently consists of farm land and some forested area, is on the north side of Route 50 just west of the Route 90 off-ramp and the southerly side of Route 346 across from the intersection with Circle Road.
Anderson said construction of the panels would take roughly four to five months. After that, there will be very little daily activity at the site. Anderson expects site visits to take place monthly during the first year of operation and after that only quarterly.
Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw asked how many local contractors would be used during construction.
Anderson replied that 70 to 80 percent of construction personnel would be “local, meaning Eastern Shore regional.” When asked about how much grass cutting would take place on the site, Anderson said it was being seeded with a low maintenance prairie grass and would require little care. He said the minor maintenance that would occur, such as panel washing, would be done by local companies.
Commissioners Ted Elder and Bud Church expressed concern regarding the screening of the solar panels.
Steve Engel of Vista Design said that there would be fencing and a line of trees installed to act as a buffer along Route 50.
“It’s close to totally blocked,” he said.
Other sides of the project will be screened by a vegetative buffer.
Commissioner Chip Bertino asked what would happen to the solar array if Community Energy decided to abandon the project at some point in the future. Anderson assured the commissioners that if that occurred his company would be responsible for removing the equipment and cleaning up the site.
“That’s in our lease and under (Maryland) Public Service Commission license conditions,” he said.