County elected officials, planners, and other technical staff from across the state attended a MACo-sponsored symposium on the benefits and challenges posed by community and utility scale solar facilities. The symposium addressed the role of solar in Maryland, the approval process for large solar facilities, different stakeholder perspectives on solar, county planning and zoning issues, and county revenue and taxation issues.
Maryland Public Service Commissioner Michael Richard discussed how the solar siting process worked. Richard noted that while the Public Service Commission (PSC) can preempt local authority in siting solar facilities, it was a power that should be used very judiciously and carefully. Richard also stressed that the PSC gives serious consideration to local government recommendations and concerns on solar sites. Solar United Neighbors Lauren Barchi provided the industry perspective on the approval process and discussed how different kinds of solar projects are categorized.
Kent County Planning, Housing, and Zoning Director Amy Moredock; Caroline County Planning and Codes Director Katheleen Freeman, and Prince George’s County Countywide Planning Division Chief Derick Berlage described how each of their respective counties developed zoning rules for large solar facilities. Key concerns raised by the panel included (1) protecting prime agricultural lands, historical sites and viewsheds; (2) managing Forest Conservation Act requirements; (3) and how to handle sensitive environmental lands, such as within critical areas.
Carroll County Management and Budget Director Ted Zaleski and MD-DC-DE-VA Solar Energy Industries Association Executive Director David Murray discussed how counties can earn revenue from solar sites. Zaleski focused on property tax assessments, personal property tax assessments, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) programs, and permitting fees.
A separate panel provided different stakeholder perspectives on solar projects. The panel included Murray, Maryland Farm Bureau Government Relations Director Colby Ferguson, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter Campaign and Policy Director David Smedick, Preservation Maryland Executive Director Nicholas Redding, and Climate Access Fund Founder/CEO Lynn Heller.
The symposium also provided information on several successful solar projects in Frederick and Prince George’s Counties and included a facilitated audience discussion at the end of the day.
The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and Solar United Neighbors co-sponsored the symposium.