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Kent County Levy Court places moratorium on utilities-scale wind farms

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The Kent County Levy Court voted on Tuesday to place a moratorium on the development of new utilities-scale wind farms, continuing an ongoing debate about the use of agricultural land for electricity generation.

Levy Court’s discussions about agricultural land use for utilities initially focused on solar parks – namely the 260-acre Cedar Creek solar park east of Smyrna permitted earlier this year. After the General Assembly voted in 2021 to require the state's energy providers to use renewable sources to supply 40 percent of the state's electricity, Kent County saw an uptick in applications for solar farms. By that time, the county had also already approved a 290-acre solar park near Harrington.

But the county received some pushback for using agricultural land for solar power generation, with some landowners arguing that the solar parks put productive farmland out of commission. The county is still awaiting the conclusion of a lawsuit filed in Chancery Court challenging its approval of one solar park.

In response to that pushback, the Levy Court voted to prohibit new utilities-scale solar parks and limit the number of smaller, community-scale solar parks outside the county’s growth zone. It also placed a three-month moratorium on new utilities-scale solar projects in March.

On Tuesday, after murmurs of a possible wind farm proposal east of Dover, Levy Court opted to follow a similar track, placing a moratorium on new utilities-scale wind farms until next June. Commissioner Allan Angel argues it’s needed to buy the county time to create rules for utilities-scale wind farms.

“The one thing we didn’t want to do – when we got solar, we got caught with our pants down," he said. "We had a long battle with that. It’s better to be proactive instead of reactive, to have something on the books.”

Kent County Planning Director Sarah Keifer told Levy Court Tuesday that a zoning change ordinance they will consider in January may render the moratorium obsolete by placing restrictions on wind power generation similar to those applied to solar power.

“There’s language in the draft that effectively treats utilities-scale wind in the same way the Levy Court chose to treat utilities-scale solar," she said, including prohibiting the development of utilities-scale wind farms on agricultural conservation land.

But Keifer also noted that unlike solar parks, a study conducted by the county about the relative viability of onshore wind power found that the costs of developing wind power infrastructure would exceed the revenue from the power generated by the turbines. According to DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti, nowhere in the state has drawn commercial interest in wind power generation, largely because Delaware does not receive strong enough winds to provide an efficient source of electricity. Keifer also noted that her office has not yet received any applications for new wind farms.

Meanwhile, the agricultural community is not unanimous in its objections to the use of farmland for utilities. "We haven't reached a consensus among the members," said Don Clifton, the Executive Director of the Delaware Farm Bureau. "When you weigh the energy needs of the population and the property rights of agricultural landowners, it isn't a straightforward issue."

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.