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Solar project on Worcester County farmland gains traction

The Maryland Public Service Commission last week hosted a virtual public hearing on a plan by Chaberton Snow Solar LLC to build a 4.0 megawatt community solar generating facility on Timmons Road in Snow Hill.

Solar project property

A piece of farmland slated for a 4.0 megawatt community solar generating facility is pictured on Timmons Road in Snow Hill.
File photo

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

Plans for a community solar project in Snow Hill are moving through the approval process.

The Maryland Public Service Commission last week hosted a virtual public hearing on a plan by Chaberton Snow Solar LLC to build a 4.0 megawatt community solar generating facility on Timmons Road in Snow Hill. The hearing was the first of several related to the community solar facility.

“All comments I receive will be considered when I issue my decision,” Chief Public Utility Law Judge Chuck McLean said. 

McLean opened a virtual hearing pm April 30 regarding the Snow Hill solar project, which is planned to occupy about 30 acers of a 103-acre agricultural parcel on Timmons Road. While no members of the public commented during the brief hearing, McLean said comments were still welcome, as there would be another hearing in August and an evidentiary hearing in September.

“The purpose of this evening’s hearing is to provide the public an overview of the project as well as the opportunity to comment and make me as well as the parties aware of any issues or concerns they may have,” McLean said. 

Lauren Barchi, community engagement manager with Chaberton Energy, said the project, for which local outreach was conducted last summer, was expected to benefit the area.

“This community solar project will benefit the local community in many ways, including tax revenue to the state and county and an average of $150 annual savings for subscribers to the project,” she said. “There will also be an immediate environmental benefit consistent with Maryland’s renewable energy and sustainability goals including replacing nonrenewable sources of energy and planting pollinator habituate that can increase farming production in the local area and support bee and insect populations.”

She said that in general, community solar projects benefited the local grid by making it more resilient. As far as the specifics of the Timmons Road project, she said there would be landscape screening around the site as well as a seven-foot high perimeter fence. She added that while there were some wetlands and an unnamed tributary in the area, the solar infrastructure had been strategically located so as not to hurt them.

“The development area was carefully selected to avoid negative impacts to these environmental features,” she said.

McLean said an in-person public hearing would be held on the project sometime during the week of Aug. 19. Written comments on the project can be sent electronically through the Public Service Commission’s online portal or by mail. Comments sent by mail should reference case number 9714 and be addressed to: Jamie Bergin, Chief Clerk, Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.

While the project is making its way through the state approval process, the Worcester County Commissioners last fall voted 4-3 not to approve it. Although the state through the PSC has the ultimate authority regarding the solar installation, the county’s denial of the project could play a negative role in approval of the project. As a result, attorney Mark Cropper has filed an administrative appeal of that decision in Worcester County Circuit Court and oral arguments are scheduled for May 23.

During last year’s meeting, Commissioners Joe Mitrecic, Caryn Abbott and Diana Purnell supported the project. Commissioners Chip Bertino, Jim Bunting, Eric Fiori and Ted Elder were in opposition. Town staff supported the project as did the county’s planning commission. 

Back in November, property owner Charles Waite III thought that after years of research and with a solar farm already operating on Timmons Road, he’d found the perfect way to ensure the independence of the family farm while supporting local energy needs.

“As a fourth-generation owner of my farm and a former elected officer for the State of Maine for two three-year terms, it is important to note that the decision to work with Chaberton Energy was one made after exhaustive and careful consideration,” Waite said. “The decision was made through the lens of both a property owner and that of an elected representative … This was a straightforward application with unanimous support from the appointed planning board and technical review committee meetings recommending approval.”

Waite was hopeful in November the commissioners would reconsider the rejection, which did not take place. 

“The 4-3 commissioners’ denial appears to ignore the existing precedent regarding a solar application I can see from my front porch,” Waite said. 

This story appears in the May 9, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.