MACo Advocates for Local Zoning Authority of Large Energy Generation Facilities

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in favor of Senate Bill 931, “Local Jurisdictions – Zoning Authority – Generating Stations” on March 14, 2017 in front of the Senate Finance Committee. Senators John Astle and Stephen Hershey sponsored the bill.

SB 931 would give a voice to the communities and local governments in the zoning process for properly siting large-scale energy generation facilities and would strike a reasonable balance between long-term land use planning and the need for utility-scale energy generation facilities.

MACo’s testimony states,

SB 931 would allow counties and municipalities with zoning authority to enact binding zoning for utility-scale energy generation facilities that need to obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Public Service Commission (PSC) or have a generation capacity of at least 2 megawatts. Community or small-scale projects are unaffected.

In order for a local government’s zoning to be binding, the local government must engage in an “enhanced” zoning process for each energy generation technology it wishes to zone for – including meeting with appropriate energy developer representatives and incorporating factors identified by the PSC as important to that energy generation technology. For the zoning to be binding, a local government must generate viable project sites and cannot simply ban a particular technology.

Currently, there is a disconnect between laws governing the siting of energy facilities and laws governing land use planning.

SB 931 would solidify a needed local government voice in how the state’s energy landscape develops. Despite several recent decisions by the PSC that found in favor of local governments over proposed energy sites in Kent and Allegany Counties, the decisions made it very clear that the PSC retains its preemption authority over local zoning and that the decisions were based on the specific facts of the case. The finding could be different in the next case. A systemic solution is still needed.

SB 931 attempts to provide a solution by requiring local governments that wish to enact binding zoning to ensure they generate viable project sites while still giving the PSC the authority to override local zoning for grid integrity issues. The bill also moves local participation toward the start of the siting process, which will help provide more certainty both to citizens and energy developers. Otherwise, it is likely that contentious siting battles and costly litigation will continue.

Joining Mr. Knapp in testifying on SB 931 were:

  • Mary Kay Verdery (Talbot County)
  • Mike Pullen (Talbot County)
  • Bill Jorch (Maryland Municipal League)
  • Candace Donoho (Maryland Municipal League)

The cross-file to the bill, HB 1592, is currently in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.