MILLINGTON — The Clean Energy Jobs Act that recently passed into law in Maryland increases the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard to require 50% of its electricity come from renewable energy by 2030 with 14.5% coming from solar. The increased RPS is expected to add 20,000 new solar jobs and to contribute $10 billion dollars in economic value to the state over the next 10 years. The Jones Farm Solar project in Queen Anne’s County will go a long way in meeting this new requirement, according to Urban Grid officials.
Developer Urban Grid of Stevensville received concept plan approval and a favorable recommendation to the Queen Anne’s County Board of Appeals from the Planning Commission for a 326.15-acre solar operation on Blanco Road in Millington in October 2017.
The property, owned by John and Ruth Stoltzfus of Kennedyville, will be leased by Urban Grid as Jones Farm Lane Solar LLC for 35 years.
“The passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act sets Maryland on a path to significant build-out of solar projects across the state, providing jobs, economic stimulus and most importantly, in-state clean, renewable energy to Marylanders,” said Adam Thompson, Urban Grid’s vice president of strategy and origination. “We expect the Clean Energy Jobs Act to have lasting impacts not only on the success of our projects but also on prolonged economic investment in the state.”
Additionally, solar farms generate higher real estate tax revenue due to the change in assessed value from agricultural use to special use/solar, said Laura Wilson with Urban Grid, a preferential value per acre is assigned to acreage within the agricultural use assessment. Land that does not receive the agricultural use assessment will be assessed based on its market value.
Urban Grid plans to start construction on its Jones Farm solar project, under development since 2016 in Queen Anne’s County, by early 2020. The 59.4 MW solar project received its special exception approval from Queen Anne’s County in February 2018, then later received its state-required Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity approval in April 2018.
Once construction is complete, the Jones Farm solar project will produce some 129,577 MWh of clean renewable electricity per year. This is enough electricity to power 15,979 homes for one year. This electricity will provide measurable offsets to the approximate 41% of electricity currently imported into Maryland and will play a significant role in Maryland’s ability to reach 50% renewable energy, according to the developer.
The Jones Farm project’s annual renewable energy output represents 91,631 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to taking 19,455 cars off the road for one year or the amount of carbon sequestered by 107,842 acres of forest per year.
The project’s landscape plan voluntarily complies with the Queen Anne’s County Forest Conservation ordinance, requires no tree cutting during construction, and includes pollinator-friendly plants in a 15-foot wide buffer of the project perimeter. Pollinator insects are critical to the continued success of food crops worldwide, but unfortunately, pesticides, land development, and other human actions have put them under a major strain. Including pollinator-friendly habitat in the project’s landscape buffer will have a positive impact on pollinator populations in Maryland, and therefore a positive impact on Maryland’s Eastern Shore agricultural industry. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year in the United States.
The landscape screening will include native evergreens, deciduous trees and pollinator habitat. The project will plant and maintain low cover grass vegetation as well as wildflower mixes to promote honeybees and other pollinators. According to the Maryland Power Plant Research Program, which reviews solar projects as part of the CPCN, the project’s vegetation proposal will provide stable habitats for birds and other wildlife.
The PPRP also reported that the solar project will improve the quality of the water leaving the site. The area will have slower runoff more like grasslands or meadows and less surface evaporation than an agricultural field.
At the end of its useful life, the project will be decommissioned, and the equipment recycled to the extent possible.
In addition to the environmental benefits, the Jones Farm project is expected to bring increased tax revenue to the county and state without placing a burden on government resources such as roads, schools, and water/sewer that would be required by other forms of development.
To contact Urban Grid for more information on the Jones Farm Solar Project, go to http://www.urbangridsolar.com/contact/.
A different solar project, Blue Grass Solar, went before the county’s Board of Appeals on June 19.