County, energy, and State representatives offered there perspectives on emerging challenges posed by the siting of energy generation facilities at the 2016 MACo Winter Conference session The New Wild, Wild West? Energy and Open Space on December 8.
Maryland Power Plant Research Program (PPRP) manager Susan Gray described the regulatory process for siting utility scale energy generation facilities and how that process has changed over time.
One Energy Director of Project Development Gia Clark discussed the benefits of utility scale solar projects, their limiting factors, and how the developers interact with landowners, the State, and the counties. Clark’s comments focused on four areas: (1) leasing land from land owners; (2) capacity and ability of grid to accept energy; (3) the efficiency and cost competitiveness of utility scale projects; and (4) the environmental review and siting processes at the state and county level. Clark argued that utility scale solar does not place prime agricultural land at risk because even if 100% of Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) clean energy goal was done with utility scale solar, it would only consumer 0.41% of agricultural land. Clark also noted that utility scale solar contributes to county tax revenue and that there are a number of examples showing how to generate a fiscal benefit to county governments.
American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) Eastern Region Director Andrew Gohn stated that there are currently 180 Megawatts of utility scale wind energy in Maryland – all in Garret County. Gohn posited that the lack of utility scale wind in other counties was because of the deference shown to counties in the current Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) siting process. Gohn argued that counties should not have zoning authority over the siting of utility scale energy projects and that the system could be improved by being more permissive to energy developers. Gohn also noted that grid operators are calling wind energy “the new baseload” and that wind is now competitive with fossil fuels.
Kent County Director of Planning, Housing, and Zoning Amy Moredock concluded the panel by discussing how Kent approached zoning for energy generation facilities to protect its agricultural zoning district – where agriculture and heritage tourism are the County’s top economic generators. Moredock stated that Kent created a Renewable Energy Task Force that existed from March to November of 2010. The Task Force created a white paper to recommend how to incorporate renewable energy projects. The Task Force determined: (1) small scale renewable energy systems were appropriate in almost all zones; and (2) utility scale wind energy was not appropriate to county. Moredock explained how utility scale solar is permitted in several zoning districts and discussed the recent preemption challenges raised against the County by the Mills Branch Solar Case.
Board of Calvert County Commissioners Commission President Evan Slaughenhoupt moderated the session.