Letter: Brickyard Industrial Solar Array: A Bad Idea

Letter: Brickyard Industrial Solar Array: A Bad Idea

Site with industrial solar array

Site with industrial solar array Photo Contributed

The Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) staff have proposed the construction of an industrial solar array on the Brickyard school site and two other school sites. More than 7,000 solar panels would be installed covering most of the 20-acre school site. These acres of solar panels would be highly visible to the adjoining homeowners and to traffic from Brickyard Road.

Last January, after considerable review and discussion, the Board of Education unanimously approved a policy governing the management of Board of Education property. That policy states “The interim use of undeveloped property should be consistent with its zoning classification and applicable laws.” — Board of Education Policy DNA (B)(b((2). The 20-acre Brickyard school site is zoned RE-2, meaning that it is zoned for residential homes on two-acre lots. The fact that MCPS staff is even proposing a project which would violate this Board of Education policy is very troublesome.

The Montgomery County zoning code only permits accessory use for solar panels such as a residential rooftop system or a small ground-mounted system serving an existing home. An industrial solar array whose sole purpose is to generate electricity such as proposed for the Brickyard site is a principal use and is not permitted in the RE-2 zone by the current Zoning Code.

More specifically, a free standing Solar Collection System is only permitted as a limited or accessory use in the RE-2 residential zone. In the Residential zone, it is allowed only as an accessory use where the system produces a maximum of 120 percent of on-site energy consumption and must satisfy the same development standards as an accessory structure. (Zoning Code § An accessory use is defined as uses that are incidental and subordinate to the principal use of a lot, site, or the principal building, and located on the same lot or site as the principal use or building. (Zoning Code §

In sum, the proposed solar array is not permitted by the current Zoning Code. The MCPS staff have not explained how the solar project will comply with the Board of Education DNA Policy. Rather, they call Board of Education policy zoning compliance a “loose end.”

The MPCS staff have stated they expect a cost savings of $90,000 based upon current costs. This cost saving is merely a projection – not a guarantee. MCPS has also admitted that earlier rooftop solar projects are not producing a financial profit. Yet, here we go again, projecting a cost savings that may result in financial loss for MCPS. This is what can happen when MPCS gambles with our tax dollars.

Why should the solar vendor be guaranteed a profit and the Board of Education assume all of the financial risk? That is not responsible stewardship by our public officials.

It is our understanding that the solar proposal will require a 10-year commitment with options to renew for another 10 years. If for any reason the project needs to be terminated earlier by MCPS, there will be a substantial million dollar plus termination fee. MPCS staff have failed to provide details of the termination fee.

The proposed industrial solar panel array would have enormous negative impact upon the Brickyard community and the property values of adjoining homeowners. This is precisely why the Zoning Code does not permit construction of huge solar arrays in residential neighborhoods. Some impacts are:

  • No landscaping buffer between the highly visible industrial solar array and the existing adjoining residential homes and Brickyard Road.

  • No fire access roads within the solar array for fire equipment or emergency vehicles. Solar panels will burn when struck by lightning or if there is an electrical generating malfunction.

  • No provision to reduce glare from the south facing panels especially in the morning and evening when the angle of the sun is low. This could impact traffic safety on Brickyard Road and the value of adjoining residential homes.

  • No realistic provision for control of storm water runoff from more than 100,000 square feet of impervious solar panel surface.

During a MCPS public meeting regarding this project attended by more than 100 people last month, only one person raised their hand in support of the industrial solar project. MCPS are you listening to community response or are you going to continue forward with this bad idea?

We need your help. Please take a moment to voice your opposition to the MCPS solar projects before Jan. 1, 2016. Send an email to Shela Plank (Shela_Plank@mcpsmd.org) or mail to Montgomery County Public Schools. Department of Facilities Management, Attn: Shela Plank, Energy Program Manager, 45 W. Gude Drive, Rockville, MD 20850.