Frederick News-Post Argues For Local Role in Siting Solar Facilities

Frederick News-Post editorial (2017-12-17) argued that local governments should play a role in the siting of large scale solar facilities and urged the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to consider local zoning and land use when deciding to accept or reject a recent recommendation from a public utility law judge. As the article states, Public Utility Law Judge Ryan McLean recently denied Coronal Energy’s proposed Biggs Ford Solar Center near Walkersville in Frederick County. The denial becomes permanent January 5, 2018, unless there is an appeal or the PSC overrides the decision.

While supporting the denial, the News-Post expressed concern about language in the judge’s opinion regarding the role of local governments in the solar siting process. Legislation based on a MACo Legislative Initiative passed during the 2017 Session (HB 1350) that requires the PSC to consider whether a proposed energy project is consistent with local comprehensive plans and zoning before approving or denying the project. Frederick County had adopted new zoning requirements for solar projects after the passage of HB 1350 but Coronal Energy had applied for the Biggs Ford project prior to the adoption of the new ordinance and refused to reapply under the new ordinance or even acknowledge the county’s role.

From the editorial:

Local jurisdictions need to have a say on whether large-scale power projects can proceed. …

While [McLean] is correct that the county wants to limit the size and placement of such projects, we disagree that the intent was to ban them completely. The county proposed to go slowly on creating huge arrays, so that officials can see the full impact on the community. …

The judge might well rule the county’s law is too broad or poorly written, but to allow a state agency’s opinion to stand without considering the local law seems to contradict the intent of the requirement that local reviewers be considered. As long as the local authority is not unreasonably holding up a project, its wishes should carry substantial weight. …

Now the issue is before the PSC. We believe the commissioners should tread carefully here. They should not trample the rights of local officials and the residents they represent. Frederick County has a right to be heard on such an important decision.