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Exclusive: Huge Amazon Solar Farm coming to Townsend

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Engie will build a 50-megawatt array near the Maryland state line that Amazon will buy power from. It will be named Amazon Solar Farm Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF ENGIE

TOWNSEND – Amazon already has a substantial presence in the First State, operating three fulfillment centers and a last-mile distribution center with more of each on the way, but it’s preparing to embark on a new project here: renewable energy.

The e-commerce giant partnered with French wind and solar farm developer Engie late last year to develop projects totaling 569 megawatts in five states, including Delaware.

In September, Engie acquired more than 500 acres of farmland off Green Giant Road west of Townsend near the Maryland state line in a $10.9 million deal, according to county land records. The developer plans to build a 50-megawatt array on the land next year, called the Amazon Solar Farm Delaware, which would rank the array among the largest being developed in Delaware – and more than four times larger than the current largest array in the state.

Freepoint Solar is also developing a 50-megawatt array in Harrington as it tries to salvage its much larger proposal for a 114-megawatt array near Smyrna that Kent County officials recently denied. Delaware’s largest array currently in operation is the 12-megawatt Milford Solar Farm.

Engie plans to build on about 276 acres of farmland that is dotted by overhead power lines and connected to an existing Delmarva Power substation off Dogtown Road, according to plans filed with the county. Amazon has agreed to purchase the power produced by the array through what’s known as a power purchase agreement (PPA), which locks in energy rates and purchases for a specified time period. Such agreements give assurance to solar developers that they will recoup their costs over the long term, while energy buyers can lock in long-term low rates.

This land off Green Giant Road west of Townsend has been acquired by a solar developer working with Amazon on a major project. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The project started about two years ago when Radnor, Pa.-based Community Energy Inc. began work on the site then-called Solidago Solar. Community Energy has a longstanding relationship with Amazon, having signed a PPA with the corporate giant for its first solar farm in Virginia in 2015, and a new relationship with Engie, which it sold a project near Gettysburg, Pa., last year.

The large-scale project was aided in a way by competing developer Freepoint Solar, which lobbied for changes to New Castle County’s land use code to allow solar development outside of industrial zones. The resulting 2017 ordinance opened up traditionally rural farmlands to up to 1,000 acres of total solar development countywide.

“In 2017, your county government came together to create solar power policy to make energy more affordable and create a more sustainable future,” New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said in a statement Monday when asked about the Amazon Solar Farm. “To avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change, we must transition to renewable energies and end our dependence on fossil fuels. We win the future when we create green jobs and make large solar farms like this a reality.”

While Amazon is well-known for its e-commerce, distribution and web services, the company is also increasingly investing in renewable energy around the globe to offset its immense usage footprint. It aims to power 100% of company activities with renewable energy by 2025 through billions in energy investments.

Earlier this year, Amazon became the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the U.S. and the world. The PPA it signed with Engie was the largest the energy developer had ever signed.

“We’re driving hard to fulfill the Climate Pledge — our commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and former CEO, in a statement announcing the company’s investments last summer. “Our investments in wind and solar energy in the U.S. and around the world send a signal that investing in green technologies is the right thing to do for the planet and citizens — as well as for the long-term success of businesses of all sizes across all industries everywhere.”

The 50-megawatt farm 4 miles west of Townsend wouldn’t be Amazon’s first solar project in Delaware, as it also installed a 2.7-megawatt array atop its Middletown fulfillment center in one of its first such rooftop projects in 2017.

During construction of the Amazon Solar Farm Delaware, Engie will reportedly create about 210 jobs. The companies had targeted completing their varied projects by the end of 2022, but it’s unclear whether they will still make that target. As of this week, the land a few miles south of Amazon’s Middletown fulfillment center was still being farmed.

Neither Amazon nor Engie replied to requests for comment on the project.

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