Washington County Approves Tax Deal for Solar Power Project

Another proposed solar project in Washington County has received a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement with county officials.

Pinesburg Solar is proposing an approximately 7-megawatt solar array on about 60 acres at 14868 Schetrompf Lane, east of Bottom Road in the Pinesburg community northwest of Williamsport.

The project calls for a capital investment of $16 million to $18.5 million, according to a Maryland Public Service Commission filing.

According to The Herald-Mail,

The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 on Dec. 13 to approve the PILOT agreement with Pinesburg Solar that calls for the company to pay $6,000 per megawatt for 30 years in lieu of business personal property taxes, according to county documents.

The 30-year term is the length of the project’s ground lease, which works out to $42,000 a year or $1.26 million total in payments to the county, the documents said.

In November, the county also approved a PILOT agreement with Coronal Energy for an 18.3-megawatt solar array on about 170 acres along Mason Dixon Road near the Pennsylvania line.

That 20-year agreement works out to $2.2 million or about $110,000 annually for the county.

The deal prevents the company from facing a large expense upfront on county personal property taxes and evens out the payments to the county over several years, Divelbiss said.

The solar equipment would have been subject to a county personal property tax on 50 percent of its value.

The PILOT agreement, including taking into account depreciation on the equipment, represents a 35 percent reduction from what Pinesburg Solar would have paid the county otherwise, the documents said.

County Administrator Greg Murray told the commissioners that the deal secures a steady stream of revenue for the county — revenue the county doesn’t usually get consistently from that kind of property.

The 60 acres for the solar array is spread among a 165-acre parcel that includes some existing woods between the two sections of planned panels, according to Divelbiss and a conceptual site plan.

The project also would contribute toward Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, whose goal is to move the state “toward 20 percent renewable energy production by 2022,” the Maryland Energy Administration’s website said.

Pinesburg Solar is a subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based Community Energy Solar, which is working on other solar projects in the county.

One of Community Energy Solar’s subsidiaries is Perennial Solar, which is proposing a solar array on about 86 acres of Cearfoss farmland near the intersection of Md. 63 and Md. 494, which has drawn opposition from nearby residents concerned about their rural views and safety risks.

The project led county government to file an appeal in July that opposes a Washington County Circuit Court decision to allow the state Public Service Commission to be the sole regulatory agency for large solar projects in the county.

Perennial Solar’s attorney had filed a motion in circuit court arguing that the PSC, rather than the county Board of Zoning Appeals, should have jurisdiction over the matter.

Read the full article for more information.

Energy Facility Siting is one of MACo’s legislative initiatives for the 2017 session. For decades, the state has exercised a very narrow pre-emption of local planning and zoning authority for major power plants, grounded in the need for the larger power grid to receive ample power supply. Recent cases before the state’s Public Service Commission threaten to dramatically widen that principle, applying it to virtually any generation facility, regardless of its size or importance to the regional power grid. A new generation of power facilities – from solar farms to alternative technologies – could be freed up to ignore local zoning and oversight. This decision threatens local land use control — and the important rights of communities to guide their own historic, agricultural, and residential character.

Click here to read energy siting coverage on Conduit Street.