Bigs Ford Solar

Whitmore/Biggs Ford Solar Center is proposed for a 151-acre area on a farm at Biggs Ford and Dublin roads near Walkersville.

Several Walkersville residents continued to voice opposition to a proposed solar array near Walkersville at a Public Service Commission (PSC) public hearing Thursday night.

The hearing, held in front of Chief Public Law Utility Judge Ryan “Chuck” McLean at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Frederick, was the latest installment of a yearslong legal process involving the Whitmore/Biggs Ford Solar Center proposal, an attempt to rezone roughly 151 acres of agricultural land on Biggs Ford Road near Walkersville.

A few dozen people attended the hearing, the majority of whom testified against the project. Bonnie and Patrick Volovar live near the proposed array, and said they bought their house about 30 years ago because of the views, and wanted to protect prime agricultural farmland.

“I just think it’s immoral to plant solar panels, on highly productive [and] the best soil in Frederick County. ... Right now, I am saying don’t put this in my backyard,” Bonnie Volovar said.

Jan Sadowsky, another nearby resident, said he spends time studying the stars near his house. A solar array would create a heat island that would make it harder to do so, he said.

He also said he shared others’ concerns that the project would decrease the value of nearby homes.

“We don’t want to have that eyesore every time we have to drive in toward Walkersville,” Sandowsky said.

Not everyone, however, was opposed to the project. John Whitmore, son of Ralph Whitmore, owner of the farm, said a solar array would be better than residential development on the land.

“Frederick County is developing. ... Single-family residential housing is going to create much more of a NIMBY issue than what is occurring here,” Whitmore said. “It’s different than having a bunch of houses that have cars, and the infrastructure around that.”

Mitch Brannen, son-in-law of Ralph Whitmore, said a number of speculators and developers have approached the Whitmore family in the past several years.

“Every time they came and brought a truck full of money, Ralph said no,” Brannen said. “We’re trying to make sure this isn’t as populous.”

But several residents cited concerns about protecting farmland, along with precedent that the county had denied rezoning the project.

“This corridor is a very highly productive agricultural area,” said Andrew Toms, a dairy farmer who lives about half a mile from the proposed site. He added that he has owned farmland countywide, including near Urbana.

“I would rather farm 100 acres here than 200 acres down there,” Toms said.

The application was denied both by the county’s Planning Commission and Frederick County Council, but Whitmore/Biggs Ford Solar Center has submitted its case to the PSC to see if it can build the array.

A state Court of Appeals decision from earlier this year deemed the PSC the “ultimate decision-maker” concerning whether solar companies can construct solar arrays statewide.

The PSC regulates gas, electric, telephone, water, and sewage disposal companies, and has jurisdiction over electricity and suppliers, and construction of generating stations statewide.

Several senior state officials have also recommended denying a certificate of public convenience and necessity, or CPCN, to help approve the project. A letter stating that, dated Sept. 11, was signed by:

  • Joseph Bartenfelder, Maryland’s secretary of agriculture.
  • Kelly Schulz, secretary of commerce.
  • Robert S. McCord, secretary of planning.
  • Pete Rahn, secretary of transportation.
  • Mary Beth Tung, director of the Energy Administration.
  • Ben Grumbles, secretary of the environment.
  • Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, secretary of natural resources.

Robert A. Sadzinski, program manager of the Power Plant Research Program at the state’s Department of Natural Resources, helps review the CPCN licensing reviews for such solar arrays.

According to court documents, he testified that the solar array’s location in Walkersville’s Priority Preservation Area, its being on prime farmland and other factors were reasons why the array shouldn’t be built.

He also said that although the project would contribute to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard goals — 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, including increasing the solar carve-out target to 14.5 percent by 2028 — it would contribute only .9 percent of that total.

“Although it would help to support the Maryland RPS, the project’s small contribution does not outweigh the substantive issues the reviewing State 10 agencies have identified with this project,” Sadzinski testified.

According to court records, all interested parties — which include Lincoln Energy, which acquired Coronal Energy in May, the former energy company proposing to build the array — must submit further testimony by Sept. 27.

Wendy Kearney, an assistant county attorney for Frederick County, said before the hearing that her office had concerns about that change so late in the process.

A evidentiary hearing, which McLean equated with a trial, will occur Oct. 8 and 10 in Baltimore. He will issue an opinion after that.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @Steve_Bohnel.

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(24) comments

Burgessdr

Frederick has 180,000 acres of farmland. 150 acres for a solar farm is only 0.08% of the agricultural lands. The argument of.preserving farmland is bogus.

phoebe0727

I’ve lived in Walkersville for the past 14 years and I welcome a solar farm vs another development clogging up Biggs Ford Rd. If Mr.Whitmore can no longer afford to farm the land, he should be able to install a solar array. We don’t need to be adding any more vehicles to the already over used infrastructure.

KellyAlzan

I don’t wanna hear “we moved here for the view”. Or “I like to look at the stars”.



Really, smack dab outside the city and you’re worried about seeing the stars? You need to move to wolfsville or Washington county if you’re that serious about stars.



Listen you people, if there is tillable farm land near you - guess what it’s going to be developed. I suggest you move to a mountain property, hard to put a car dealership on a mountain ridge...

KellyAlzan

There comes a time where a property owner wants to cash out, usually because he/she is getting old. With that said, it’s inevitable that someone’s land will be sold.



Andrew Toms is welcome to go to Woodsboro bank and get a loan to buy it.



The property is a perfect location for a mega car dealership. Complete with the p.a. system and parking lot lights. I’ll take a solar farm any day over the inevitable - a mega car dealership......

dairyfarmer100

It's not zoned for a "mega car dealership". Its zoned agriculture. KellyAlzan - you missed the whole concept of what's going on. The PSC admin judge can determine if it is a suitable site for a powerplant. If the judge determines its not- then they decline it. The county's comprehensive plan is a major factor-- and it says its suitable for AG

Comment deleted.
ebr1024

While we're at it, save it for 10 years and put a Small Modular Nuclear Reactor onsite, built into the ground. Produces at least 100x more energy per acre and probably less of an eyesore with few trucks needed to refuel. Can probably still farm much of the land at the same time too.

threecents

Right now this land is zoned for agriculture, so I think that whether the owner got offered truckloads of money by housing developers is irrelevant for this decision; houses aint going to get built there.

gabrielshorn2013

Three, that's what folks said before the neighborhood of complainers across the street from this farm was built. It was not that long ago either. That neighborhood was stuck smack dab in the middle of cornfields and dairy farms. Now they're gonna complain about "losing their view "?

MD1756

Seems like a lot of complaints from people who live in houses built on farmland after 1988 and ruining other's views. The wants of the few appear to outweigh the benefit of the many especially when it isn't on property they own. The argument by one that the "heat island" would ruin his view of the stars is hardly a compelling argument, and it seems if his study were that serious, he'd move to somewhere like central/south of Texas where more importantly, light pollution will not adversely impact his study of the stars.



The RF argument is rather weak too. See: http://files.masscec.com/research/StudyAcousticEMFLevelsSolarPhotovoltaicProjects.pdf , or https://www.ssti.us/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Scaling_Public_Concerns_of_Electromagnetic_Fields_2010_OR.pdf or finally, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15459624.2015.1047021 .



As far as property values are concerned, who ever has a guarantee that their property value will not go down? I'd prefer that mine go down so I don't have to pay as much taxes over the next 20 to 30 years. Finally, the state official (Robert Sadzinski) trying to minimizing the impact of the project on Maryland's clean energy goals by claiming that although the project would contribute to the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard goals — 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, including increasing the solar carve-out target to 14.5 percent by 2028 — it would contribute only .9 percent of that total. What percent of the total farming in Maryland does this farm contribute? I suspect it is significantly less than 0.9%. As other have pointed out when commenting on other articles, it is possible for to farm and produce electricity (for example, see: https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-08/energy-and-food-together-under-solar-panels-crops-thrive). I wonder how many of those families in the neighborhood near the proposed site have more than two children, thus adding to the climate change problem. Even if not, it seems by putting their self interest above others, they are part of the problem rather than being part of the solution.

threecents

Is this particular plot so prized by the solar folks because it gets incredible light? And is that the same reason that it is so prized for farmers - that it is twice as productive as land just a mile away? I am just trying to get a handle on why people want this particular land for the solar project or for farming.

pfitzgerald

First and foremost, utility sized solar projects want to be close to an electrical substation. Next, it's an area of large, open, relatively cheap land. The sun's rays are cheap; getting them to your refrigerator is not.

kstr92

Um, if the current owners don’t want to farm the land, then sell it to someone who will. Just because you own it doesn’t mean you can do anything you want with it as that’s why we have zoning laws. It’s zoned for farming — not a darn power plant and not townhouses.



As for push for “renewable” energy, if this is the result — meaning, covering once productive farm land and other open spaces with hideous solar panels — then it seems more like cutting off your nose to spite your face.



Farm it or sell it!

gabrielshorn2013

Farm it or sell it? Farmers are land rich and cash poor. A developer can afford to buy the land at a higher price than farmers, and then just hold on to it until they can build. Would you tell this particular farmer who they could sell THEIR land to, and for how much? If you had an item to sell, would it be ok for someone to tell you that you couldn't sell it to the highest bidder? Furthermore, you can still farm between and under the panels. We have provided dozens of references in this space of people doing just that. Corn may not be appropriate, but many other crops are. Are you one of the neigh6that "are owed a view?"

seanjames

if these people want to keep farms on all the land, even as it becomes increasingly valuable, then they should propose a tax that can subsidize the farmers to make it worth their while to continue farming it. but i guarantee they wouldn't want that, so they can shut it. between this and townhouses, i know which one i'm rooting for

phoebe0727

^^^ THIS

newspostreader

It is always mind boggling when people fight these solar farms. I'd much rather see a field of solar panels than a new 300 unit development go in.

gabrielshorn2013

So, some of the neighbors bought their homes because of the view (of someone else's property). If they want to keep "their view", they should all band together and pony up to buy the land from the farmer. Nobody owes you a view of their property!

Dwasserba

[thumbup]gabriel '“Every time they came and brought a truck full of money, Ralph said no,' Brannen said. 'We’re trying to make sure this isn’t as populous.”' Which is more than he should ever be expected to do. He's being couteous to others who have no rights to his property.

Reader1954

build it on the alcoa property in buckeystown

LeonardKeepers

i do not really like prime farm land being used for these solar arrays.sadly the property owner will get more money from the solar array than farming the land.one thing people do not think about is,they have to eat and food has to come from a farm befre it gets to a grocery store.another thing abut solar arrays is radio frequency interference.the federal communications commission needs to get on board and come up with regulations against RFI,

DickD

And you really think that the federal government can regulate land? Last I knew that is a local government right - federal land being an exception.

shiftless88

Hey Leonard; pony up the money and buy the land! Keep in mind that a solar field does not destroy the land. In fact it is far easier to change back to farming than probably any other envisioned use of the land.

DickD

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, solar cells don't bother me. Of course, others will have a different view point. M of one is right or wrong. It's a matter of personal likes or dislikes. . However, trying to say that you have a right to a view, at the cost of other property owners is ridiculous. Yes, if zoning protects prooerty from certain uses, but without the zoning you were never promised anything other than use of your property.

Dwasserba

For 15+ years we bordered an open field that abutted a city park in our neighborhood. This field was vacant so long, people sold homes telling new buyers the church that owned it would "never" build on it. Well guess what. There was grumbling, but it affects no one more than us, as it runs the full width of our property, then only partially obscures the view on one side. We fenced to avoid seeing a parking lot. It's been another 20 years or so. You can miss what you never owned, like the expansive view we had across Opossomtown Pike clear over to Nallin farmhouse and beyond, and how we ran our dog on it. But it was borrowed always and one could even say, frequently trespassed by many. Unfortunately, "never" does not apply to open land around here. And was ever a promise made? No.

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