In a major win for the environment and smart growth, earlier this week the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) denied a controversial application to construct two utility-scale solar developments proposed for forested land in western Charles County.

Both projects required permits from MDE in order to allow for the disturbance of the high-quality wetlands and waterways located on the properties. One of these projects, the Shugart Valley, was initiated by Georgetown University to meet its sustainability goals.

While Smart Growth Maryland emphatically supports renewable energy, the negative impacts associated with these projects – extensive forest clearing and degradation of high-quality streams – significantly outweigh the renewable energy benefits. After an extensive review, which included requiring the developer to submit a Social and Economic Justification, MDE also concluded that the environmental impacts of the proposed projects were unacceptable.

Since fall of 2018, Smart Growth Maryland and its partners in the Smarter Growth Alliance for Charles County have called upon Georgetown University to employ its considerable resources to advance the University’s sustainability goals without destroying forests and wetlands and degrading streams. Those calls went unheeded, even once students, alumni, and members of the faculty became aware of the project and voiced their objections.

Kimberly Golden Brandt, Director of Smart Growth Maryland, noted that, “Both the Georgetown and the Ripley Road solar projects were approved by Charles County and have been touted as economic development. Charles County’s forests mitigate flooding, support groundwater recharge, and provide wildlife habitat. The county’s forests and streams are also a draw for birders, hikers, and anglers who support local businesses. Destroying forests for solar development is not sustainable or good economic development.”

Smart Growth Maryland remains supportive of renewable energy, but believes such projects should be targeted to marginal lands and rooftops – not areas with significant cultural, natural or agricultural value. There can and must be a balance when expanding the state’s renewable energy portfolio and these permit denials underscore the need for that balance.

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