SMYRNA — Kent County Levy Court is set to vote on a potential solar complex that, if approved, would mean the installation of about 230,000 solar panels on property east of Smyrna.
The vote will take place during Levy Court’s meeting Sept. 28, after Freepoint Solar received conditional approval to construct the complex from the Regional Planning Commission on Sept. 9.
The complex, if constructed, would be called Cedar Creek Solar. According to Levy Court documents, the owners of the property where the complex would be built are James Knotts Jr. of Smyrna and the Piney Cedar Trust of Dagsboro.
Freepoint Solar is proposing a fenced solar array with about 230,000 panels and 22 inverters, which would cover about 260.46 acres of the nearly 530-acre farm.
Gregg Moore, who spoke on behalf of Freepoint Solar at a Sept. 2 Regional Planning Commission hearing, said the company “can’t disclose exactly all of the users” who might receive power generated at the complex but that it will be “either municipalities or large users or large providers of power.”
According to Levy Court documents, the property also includes 208.72 acres of wetlands and 2.54 acres of woodlands.
The acreage — part of Kent County but adjacent to New Castle County — is located on three parcels on the north sides of Lighthouse and Woodland Beach roads in an area zoned for agricultural conservation.
It is currently being used for farming and residential purposes.
Donald Goldsborough, a lifelong resident of an area adjacent to the proposed complex, voiced his concern about its construction Friday.
He said he worries that, if built, the complex could set a precedent for similar solar facilities to be constructed nearby.
“This is poorly located,” Mr. Goldsborough said. “If right now, we set a precedent that we’re going to develop this agricultural land along the East Coast that is sensitive, if we don’t right now say that this is not a good idea, … if we don’t try to conserve this land, it’s going to continue.”
He said wildlife could be disrupted by a solar establishment, noting that the area is in the path of migratory birds and a location for turtle nesting.
While not opposed to renewable energy, Mr. Goldsborough said he would like to see solar panels installed on roofs or around parking lots, rather than taking up farmland.
“If we don’t stop it right now, it’s going to sprawl out all across Kent County,” he added. “I’m not against (solar). It’s just doing it in this area that I’m against. There’s plenty of other areas that’s not as sensitive to the environment as this area.”
Kent County Commissioner Joanne Masten, who represents the district where the proposed complex would be built, said that while the land’s zoning is open to its construction, she understands the root cause of opposition.
“It is a magnificent piece of property, there’s no question,” she said. “I totally understand.”
The proposed site currently houses a residence, a mobile home, a barn and a shed that would all be demolished. The solar complex would be accessed from Lighthouse Road.
For nonresident land development, including a solar project such as this one, the county requires one tree planted for every 3,000 square feet. However, in its application, Cedar Creek Solar sought a waiver to lower the number of the project’s required trees from 3,640 to 516. The company also sought a plant buffer rather than trees in some areas, since trees could hinder the ability of the panels to function. County staff did accept those requests, if the complex receives approval.
The tree/plant buffer of 3,455 linear feet would be planted along Lighthouse Road, the western and northern portion of the property.
Staff also gave conditional approval to several of Cedar Creek Solar’s requests for lesser setbacks. The company wanted a waiver of the required 25-foot setback from wetlands, the 100-foot buffer from all streams and the 50-foot buffer from drainage ditches.
The company’s justification was that support beams for the panels do not disturb the areas in which they are planted.
Given that solar panels have a life span of 25 to 30 years, according to Levy Court documents, staff also recommended that Cedar Creek Solar be made to “restore the land back to ground suitable for agriculture or other permitted uses in the zoning district” after that time.
The Sept. 28 meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in the Levy Court chambers of the Kent County Administration Building, 555 Bay Road, Dover. The public is welcome to attend, but capacity is limited due to social distancing. Masks are required.
Virtual attendance is through WebEx or by calling 408-418-9388. For more information, visit here.