On a recent trip to the Frederick County Recycling Center, I happened to notice the solar arrays that have been constructed at the landfill. This was good to see, as I am a fan of solar power and other renewable energy sources. Like many local residents, I have been following the discussions taking place at the county level about solar energy and where such panels should be placed (i.e., agricultural land). Although I support solar energy efforts, I have not been behind some of the recent attempts to place large arrays on prime farmland.

The 2017 Frederick County Council’s ordinance that created “solar floating zones,” where solar panels would be permitted, included a number of specific restrictions for land that has been zoned agricultural. For example, the solar arrays could not cover more than 10 percent of the farm’s tillable acreage or more than 75 acres, they could not be placed in a rural legacy or priority preservation area, could not be on prime farm soil, or cannot be contiguous to a growth area as defined by the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

In general, I agree with the restrictions set out by the 2017 bill, although recent conversations have revolved around relaxing them a bit. If that happens, I hope the County Council doesn’t ease them up much. This doesn’t mean I am anti-farmer. In fact, the Frederick County Farm Bureau has also taken a stance to protect important agricultural land. Rather, I am more pro-food. As population increases, we will lose some farmland to development while needing more food for sustain ourselves. Yes, our farmers need to be able to survive and even thrive, but there are other ways to support them than by allowing large, ugly metallic structures across our rural landscape.

Which brings me back to the solar panels at the landfill. The solar arrays placed there were constructed on a closed landfill site, which obviously can’t be used for anything else. Farming won’t be done there, nor can residential and commercial developments be built on top of the geosynthetic landfill cap. It is these types of locations that make better sense for solar arrays.

In fact, the approach by which Coronal Energy and other companies want to build solar panels on farmland is outdated. They are trying to exploit the farmers and build these structures in the cheapest and most antiquated ways. There are many other sites with large square footage that make more sense, including roofs of big-box stores, warehouses, colleges and schools, government buildings, and even gas station canopies. In fact, the city of Frederick, Frederick County, and the state of Maryland could incentivize the installation of solar panels on such facilities.

Other ideas are out there too. Placing solar arrays on the top deck of parking garages would not only capture energy but also keep the cars that park there cooler in the summer and protected from other weather elements. Encouraging parking canopies that do the same or creating solar trees as public art installations would also serve more than one purpose (do an internet search for images of either example to see what is possible).

Rack-mounted modules installed on rooftops or in fields is no longer the norm. Solar solutions have seen significant improvements in technology and aesthetics. Building Integrated PV (BIPV) are solar PV modules that generate electricity and also perform the waterproofing function of the roofing shingle or tile. They are lightweight, require no structural reinforcement, are easy to install and also designed to withstand snow, wind and hail.

It takes a tiny fraction of the sun’s rays that hit the Earth to take care of our needs. Therefore, let’s look at other viable options rather than replace Frederick County’s farms with large solar arrays.

Shuan Butcher is a writer, nonprofit professional, amateur photographer, wannabe background actor, event planner, and perpetual traveler. He writes from Frederick.

(10) comments

Burgessdr

I understand your concern for using up productive farmland. But I don't see it as a problem. A 100 acre solar farm will produce enough electricity for about 10,000 people. Frederick County has about 250,000 people. Thus, 2,500 acres of solar farms would produce enough electricity for the county residents. There are about 200,000 acres of productive farmland. Thus, 2,500 acres of solar farms on 200,000 acres of farmland, is just 1.25% of the farmland. A negligible amount. Furthermore, there is not enough rooftops acreage to produce that amount of electricity. The major hurdle to widespread solar farms is the "no solar farms in my backyard spoiling my bucolic view" NsIMBYsmBV

gabrielshorn2013

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glenkrc

Burgess - Your math is good, but your assumptions are a bit off. Let's look at a real example. The MSM solar array occupies over 100 acres (105.7 direct use; 158.6 total per Federal reports). It is rated at 17.4 MW-DC (per Federal reports). If you apply a typical .85 "derate factor" (typical DC to AC conversion, per Federal reports) and a .17 capacity factor ( reasonable for MD, per various solar websites), you come up with annual generation of ~22 million kW-hrs. Applying the average electricity use in MD (1031 kW-hr/month often quoted in the FNP and other media) and average household size in Frederick County (2.7 per census info in Wikipedia), you end up with ~4,800 people being supplied. And even that's a bit generous, since the average electricity use figure is suppressed a bit by the fact that ~60% of Marylanders use other sources of energy to heat their homes. Thus, if your goal is to "go renewable" and replace fossil fuels, you'll need to switch over all those folks who heat with gas and oil. ---- A good figure of merit, that I demonstrated several years ago and have not found any reason to deviate from, is that to supply Maryland's total electrical needs using solar arrays (~3,200 MSM-sized arrays) would require covering an area roughly the size of Frederick County.

hayduke2

Farming and solar panels can easily coexist! Two birds with one stone.

gary4books

The laws concerning solar collectors ned to be written to make sure that any use for solar energy is temporary and that all changes can be reversed quickly when needed. Best to put these collectors where crops can not grow. But if a family farm needs some income for a few years, that should be one of their options other than putting in rows of houses.

gabrielshorn2013

Agreed Gary. Additionally, installation of solar panels does not preclude all agricultural use. It may preclude row crops, such as corn, but other crops, such as fruits and vegetables may be grown between and under the panels quite well.

Energy and food together: Under solar panels, crops thrive | Public ...

gabrielshorn2013

Here is a link to support growing crops among solar panels.

https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-08/energy-and-food-together-under-solar-panels-crops-thrive%3Famp&ved=2ahUKEwikyNWW1LnjAhWXPM0KHZSTAyIQFjADegQIAhAB&usg=AOvVaw1A7Vc6_M-sBynzQlt_mnJZ&ampcf=1

glenkrc

The link, as written, failed. This truncated version worked for me: ---- https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-08/energy-and-food-together-under-solar-panels-crops-thrive

gabrielshorn2013

Thanks glenkrc. There are many other websites from agricultural programs that do this too.

gary4books

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