From the crest of a small hill, the scale of the OneEnergy Baker Point solar array starts to come into view. The gently sloping 60-acre parcel of farmland is now home to more than 34,000 solar panels that span a majority of the property.
Owners Glenn Eaves Jr. and Rebecca Eaves welcomed elected officials and members of the public to the farm in mid-November for an up-close look at the panels, generators and pollinator habitat installed on the property.
The Eaves milk 2,200 dairy cows and grow crops on 7,000 acres with Glenn’s brother, Richard, and father, Glenn Sr. The family purchased the 60-acre parcel between Old Frederick Road and Longs Mill Road from their neighbours, the Bakers, and finished installing the array this year.
“Now we’re harvesting a different crop — the sun,” Rebecca Eaves said during her remarks at the event.
The installation produces 9 megawatts of power annually, which is equivalent to the energy used by 2,000 homes, according to Cypress Creek Renewables, which operates the array.
Both Rebecca and her husband, Glenn Jr., were raised on dairy farms in Frederick County. Milk prices in recent years have been low and created financial hardships for many of the area’s dairy operations. Money from the solar installation will help buffer the family farm against fluctuating prices.
“This helps put a steady income where the milk and soybeans vary so much,” Glenn Eaves Jr. said.
Capital One Arena and the National Geographic Society have each entered into a long-term contract with WGL Energy Services to purchase the power produced at Baker Point for their headquarters in Washington, D.C. National Geographic is now using solar energy to power 50 percent of its operation.
“My husband and I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome,” Rebecca Eaves said.
County Council President Bud Otis, however, who grew up milking dairy cows and raising cattle, corn, soybeans and wheat in Indiana, was still coming to terms with the changed landscape.
“It’s emotional because I love seeing the corn, soybeans and cattle,” Otis said as he looked over the expansive solar installation on Nov. 16.
OneEnergy Baker Point was one of the few solar projects to be grandfathered by the county since new legislation came into effect. The county filed an appeal to the Maryland Public Service Commission this month, challenging a judge’s recommended approval of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for another solar project near LeGore Bridge.
Having gone through the entire process and listened to the ongoing conversations about utility-scale solar on Frederick County’s farmland, Glenn Eaves Jr. said there are items that still needed to be addressed.
“I think it can be improved on,” he said. “There’s room for improvement.”
Otis acknowledged there was a place for solar in Frederick County, but that large installations needed to be strategically placed. Seeing the finished product on Nov. 16, Otis said it still wasn’t enough to influence him to move the county beyond its current 75-acre cap for solar facilities on farmland.
“It’s a beautiful county, and we don’t want it to be paved over with asphalt or solar panels,” Otis said.
Unique to Baker Point’s array is a pollinator-friendly habitat and honey bee hives that will be maintained by University of Maryland post-doc and American Bee Journal editor Kristen Traynor.
Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law this May a law that requires certain ground-mounted solar arrays that cover at least 1 acre to plant and manage vegetation that is pollinator friendly. Native long-stemmed and short-growing flowers were planted between the rows of solar panels at Baker Point, and 40 colonies were moved to the site a month ago.
“We desperately need habitat like this,” Traynor said.
Bees are responsible for every third bite of food people eat, Traynor said, by improving crop quality and quantity and pollinating protein-rich hay crops.
The Eaves grow soybean in the fields across the road from the new pollinator habitat, Glenn Eaves Jr. said. This was an exciting development for Glenn, who acknowledged the area was in need of more bees to help pollinate the crops.
“They will work together,” he said.