Massey Solar claims forestation rules don’t apply
MASSEY — County officials disagree with the developers of a solar project in Massey who say local forest conservation regulations do not apply to their project.
Developed by Pennsylvania-based Community Energy, Massey Solar would be a 5-megawatt generating facility located at 12200 Massey Road. It is the second of two solar projects in Massey; the other was developed under the name OneEnergy Blue Star Solar and has received approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Massey Solar is still under review by the PSC for a certificate of public convenience and necessity. The PSC held public hearings on Massey Solar March 6 and April 26, both at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Massey.
Massey Solar pulled its application from review for a time as the PSC wrestled with similar projects over the applicability of Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act. While the project is back on the PSC’s active docket, Massey Solar developers are arguing that Kent County’s ordinance enforcing the Forest Conservation Act does not apply to their project.
As found on the county’s website, the local Forest Conservation Ordinance states that it does not apply to “land for electric use generating stations” provided that a CPCN has been issued by the state and “Cutting or clearing of forest is concluded to minimize the lost of forest.”
The county contends that projects like Massey Solar and OneEnergy Blue Star Solar are required to meet forest conservation require- ments as found under the regulations for their zoning designation.
Some Kent County residents argue that Massey Solar’s developers are doing an end-around by seeking a CPCN from the Public Service Commission before getting county approval for the project.
Janet Christensen-Lewis, chairman of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, raised that issue again at the April 26 public hearing. She also voiced concerns about notices the developers provided regarding the hearing.
“It just seems they have this sense that the rules don’t apply to them,” ChristensenLewis said.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Power Plant Research Program, or PPRP, issued recommended license conditions for Massey Solar, notably that the developers consult with county officials to “identify mitigation requirements for the Project.”
“Prior to the start of construction, Massey Solar shall provide documentation to the PSC and PPRP that a Forest Conservation Plan for the Project has been approved by Kent County,” the list of conditions states.
PPRP Program Manager Robert Sadzinski, in separate testimony submitted to the PSC March 22, said the recommendations were consistent with those issued in the OneEnergy Blue Star Solar case.
In testimony provided April 4 to the PSC, Community Energy’s Tom Anderson said the county Forest Conservation Ordinance does not apply to CPCN projects provided they minimize forest loss.
“The Massey Solar project is an electric generating facility that will be developed on a site that does not require the removal of any trees in order to construct the project. Because the site does not require the removal of trees, the project satisfies the FCO’s threshold requirement of minimizing the loss of forest and thus qualifies for the FCO exemption,” Anderson said.
Sadzinski provided a rebuttal April 10, saying the PPRP recommendation was to ensure that the developers consult with the county and satisfy “all site planning obligations, including those related to forest conservation, in a manner that is consistent with other CPCN cases in Kent County.”
OneEnergy Blue Star Solar initially fought forest conservation requirements, calling them a “tree tax.” The final order from the PSC required the developers to comply with the law.
Sadzinski said as much in his April 10 rebuttal testimony.
“PPRP asserts that, in order to protect the State’s forests and other sensitive areas, Massey Solar should be required to comply with the same County site planning rules applied to OneEnergy Blue Star,” he said.
According to an April 24 letter to the PSC from Kent County Planning Commission attorney Mitch Mowell, the county has maintained the applicability of forest conservation provisions required of the zoning designation for Massey Solar and OneEnergy Blue Star Solar in the Kent County Land Use Ordinance.
“When read closely, neither the OneEnergy nor the Massey Solar cases meet the exception provisions and are, in fact, subject to the applicability of the act,” wrote Kent County Director of Planning, Housing and Zoning Amy Moredock in an email Tuesday.
Sadzinski also said in his April 10 rebuttal that the state Forest Conservation Act is not about replacing trees removed from a particular project site.
“Rather, it recognizes every project developer’s obligation, envisioned in the FCA, to contribute toward improving Maryland’s natural resources. Retaining and expanding existing forested areas, by promoting additional tree planting, helps protect sensitive habitats and improve surface water quality in local streams within Chesapeake Bay watershed,” he said.
Anderson appeared at the April 26 public hearing, though he focused his testimony there on background about the project, its location and size. He spoke about how the solar panels that can track the sun’s movement throughout the day to generate more energy.
Kent County farmer Pat Langenfelder said at the hearing that she is happy to see a solar project of this size coming to the county. She said her family has a solar array on their farm.
“I’m not here in any opposition to the solar project per se,” said Langenfelder, who also is vice chairman of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance. “But I do object to the fact that the solar project does not want to comply with our Forest Conservation Ordinance that our county has and is trying to circumvent that.”
John Lysinger, secretary of the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, said he is concerned about the precedent that could set.
Stephanie Jones, envi- ronmental planner with the Department of Planning, Housing and Zoning, said the project does conform to the zoning, though forest conservation has not been addressed by the developers.
“The county commissioners, the planning commission, the planning department are not opposed to the project. It’s just the fact that they need to address forest conservation within the county ordinance (and) also for state standards,” Jones said.
Christensen-Lewis read a letter from ShoreRivers calling for the county Forest Conservation Ordinance to be applied to any development “to protect and enhance our sparse forest resources.” The letter states that trees are some of the best protectors for creeks and rivers.
“Kent County, because of its farming history, has one of the lowest concentrations of trees in any of the counties in the state of Maryland. Only 23 percent of our land mass is is under tree cover,” Christensen-Lewis said, citing the Kent County Comprehensive Plan, a guide for land use and development. “We know that the Forest Conservation Act was put in place specifically for water filtration and it is the most beneficial thing that can be done.”
Written comments on Massey Solar will be accepted through May 10. They may be sent to: David J. Collins, Executive Secretary, Maryland Public Service Commission, William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.
To read the PSC filings associated with Massey Solar, go to www.psc.state.md.us. It is Case No. 9407.
Tom Anderson of Community Energy Solar outlines the proposed Massey Solar project April 26 during a Public Service Commission hearing held at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.