Solar farms are cropping up like cornfields

Sussex County sees 40 applications so far
January 12, 2024

Here a solar farm, there a solar farm, everywhere a solar farm.

That seems to be the trend in Sussex County. Since the summer of 2021, 40 solar farm applications have been filed with the county.

No final site plans have been approved and no construction on any of the arrays has taken place.

Conditional-use applications are required to be approved because the projects are not permitted uses in AR-1, agricultural-residential, zoning. That means public hearings are required before the planning & zoning commission and county council.

County council has adopted an ordinance outlining the base conditions for all solar arrays when it comes to buffers, setbacks, decommissioning, screening and security.

On the Jan. 9 Sussex County Council agenda were four applications for solar farms filed by Elk Development LLC, a division of Pivot Energy Inc. Council deferred a decision on all four. Two of the applications were for a total of 27 acres of leased land along Thorogoods Road near Dagsboro. When operational, the two projects will generate electricity for 1,100 homes.

Two of the applications totaled 76 acres near Blades to generate electricity for 1,046 homes.

Over the past two months, another six applications for solar farms have had public hearings, including Rifle Range Road Solar LLC near Bridgeville; Taylor Mill Road Solar 1 LLC near Laurel; Sunrise Solar Inc. near Delmar.; Mispillion Solar Farm LLC near Milford; Chaberton Energy (Blue Hen Solar); and Chaberton Solar near Selbyville.

Two approved by council

On Dec. 12, council approved preliminary plans for two solar farms.

One of the most controversial applications, filed by Lewes Solar Ridge Solar 1 LLC, was approved by a 3-2 vote. The array will be built on a 15-acre site adjacent to The Ridings subdivision off Beaver Dam Road near Lewes.

Conditions imposed on the project include a 30-foot forested buffer to shield the array from The Ridings. The buffer must contain evergreen trees at least 6 feet tall planted in a staggered manner to achieve a visual buffer.

A 32-square-foot sign must be placed indicating the name of the operator with emergency contact information. The solar panels must be surrounded by a fence with interwoven design and gated with an emergency access system in place.

Council members President Mike Vincent, Cindy Green and Doug Hudson voted in favor of the application while Councilman Mark Schaeffer and Councilman John Rieley voted against it. There was considerable public opposition to the application.

“There is no such thing as a solar farm,” said Rieley. “They don't grow anything. They may use that as a veil of legitimacy locating in an agricultural area.”

He said this solar array would be shoehorned between two subdivisions. “It's an inappropriate place. Their applications are more industrial in nature and should be viewed a little bit differently than we have been doing,” he said.

Schaeffer agreed with Rieley. “This is surrounded by residential communities. These solar arrays are industrial in nature and it's inappropriate to build this facility in this particular location,” he said.

Vincent said that he hadn't heard enough in the public hearing to warrant anything other than a yes vote.

During the same meeting, council also approved a preliminary application filed by Dagsboro Thorogoods Solar 1 LLC for a solar farm on 29 acres on the east side of Thorogoods Road near Dagsboro.

Council uses the following as reasons for approval:

Solar farms are an adaptive use of farmland to preserve it from more intensive development.

The projects comply with the county comprehensive plan, which calls for the encouragement of renewable energy options such as solar farms.

And with conditions, solar farms will not result in any noticeable increase in traffic and will also not have an adverse impact on surrounding neighborhoods.


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