Solar Development Divides Farmers, Ellicott City Development Halt Draws Strong Support

Two proposals to dramatically alter development patterns in Howard County drew mixed testimony at a County Council hearing Monday night. Hundreds of acres of Howard County farmland protected from development at taxpayer expense could become fertile ground for commercial solar development.

From The Baltimore Sun,

The bill would allow landowners who sold their development rights to the county by entering their land into preservation to allow commercial solar facilities between 10 to 75 acres.

Some farm groups like the Howard County Farm Bureau support the move, which they said provides a steady income stream for struggling farmers while encouraging clean renewable energy.

“Like the weather we’ve had last summer, you never know if you’re going to drive or drown,” said Howie Feaga, president of the Howard County Farm Bureau.

But opponents said the move threatens farmland and undermines the intention of the county’s agricultural land preservation program, which aims to preserve the county’s best remaining farmland and generally prohibits large-scale non-agricultural development.

Ted Mariani, president of the Concerned Citizens of Western Howard County, said the bill is a clear “violation of trust” between the county and taxpayers who entered land into a preservation program that prohibits industrial and commercial use.

“If this goes through, this might be the biggest bait and switch in the county,” said Dan O’Leary, president of the Greater Highland Crossroads Association.

The bill’s opponents stressed they were not against renewable energy — only on land intended for preservation.

“We do not need to sacrifice our farmlands in order to support clean energy,” said Susan Garber on behalf of the Howard County Citizens Association.

Supporters said the move is unlikely to lead to widespread proliferation of solar development.

George Brown, owner of Nixon’s Farm in West Friendship, the first farm in the county to generate solar electricity sold to an electric company, said the approval was “arduous.”

Farms must be within a mile of a BGE substation and it can cost $1 million per mile to connect lines to substations, Brown said.

Farmland is not permanently transformed into solar development, Brown said; “The land is still the land.”

To date, the county has received few applications for commercial solar development.

The county’s hearing examiner denied a proposal to build a commercial solar facility on 37 acres near Old Frederick Road late last year.

About 290 parcels of land of at least 10 acres would be eligible for the program.

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