Maryland denied permits for two solar projects citing threats to a stream in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, highlighting tradeoffs that arise when pushing renewable energy projects.
The projects would have required clear-cutting 400 acres of forested land in Charles County, southeast of Washington, D.C. Despite the environmental benefits of solar energy, the potential damage to the woods and water were too much, Maryland’s Department of the Environment said last week.
“This is an unacceptable trade-off for the environmental benefits of clean energy,” the state’s Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said in a statement.
One project, Shugart Valley, was proposed by Georgetown University and Origis Energy and would have required clear-cutting 210 acres of forested land. The other, at Ripley Road, which Origis planned to build alone, would have led to removing 190 acres of trees. Grumbles said they threatened continuing efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The first facility, proposed to help Georgetown University shrink its carbon footprint, would have had capacity of 32.5 megawatts. Georgetown now has to come up with another plan to meet its goal of using 50% renewable energy by 2020, as the project was expected to generate about half of the main campus’s electricity needs.
The second project, with 27.5 megawatts of capacity, would have supplied electricity to the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative. Ripley would have generated enough electricity to power almost 5,600 homes on a sunny day.
Resistance came from the Audubon Society, which identified the locations as part of an “important bird area” on the peninsula because of the habitat the woods provide, particularly for species that need undisturbed forest to nest.
“We hope Maryland’s decision today will set a precedent that ensures we don’t have to choose between renewable energy and clean water,” Alison Prost, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s executive director, said in a statement. “Georgetown University’s efforts to expand their use of solar energy is admirable, but clean energy should never require clearing high quality forests.”
Discord about the balance between developing renewable resources and preservation of land and water is popping up all over the country. The Cape Wind Project, a proposed offshore wind farm off Cape Cod, was cancelled after a barrage of lawsuits from Nantucket residents, fishermen, tourist industries and Indian tribes.The federal government put the breaks on the nearby Vineyard Wind project this summer, in part because of concerns from fishermen.
Renewable energy plans have long been a source of tension in the California deserts, with nearly all large solar and wind projects facing opposition from angry landowners, environmental groups or both. The biggest disagreements have occurred over potential harm to wildlife, such as birds getting killed by wind turbine blades or animals losing habitat to solar panels.
Karma Takeaway: Wind and solar power plants are meeting resistance as they multiply across the U.S. Investors with the resources to finance projects are facing a widening set of sometimes-conflicting criteria as they evaluate which projects they will support.