Status of Solar Legislation: Sunny Days or Full Eclipse?

Solar development, particularly the siting of utility scale solar facilities that produce more than 2 Megawatts of power, remains an ongoing issue at both the state and county level. This article summarizes the status of seven different solar bills in the waning days of the 2019 Session.

Status of Solar Legislation in the 2019 Session

HB 532/SB 744 Protecting Natural Resources and Preserving Productive Farms – Commission on the Development of a Blueprint for Solar Energy in Maryland: The bills would establish a Commission to set policies on the siting of utility scale solar projects, including the creation of a map or blueprint of viable solar sites. The Commission would develop policies on encouraging solar projects on degraded lands such as brownfields, unproductive farmland, developed areas, public utility rights-of-ways, and publicly owned institutions. The Commission would develop policies on discouraging solar projects on productive farmland, forest land, park land, wetlands, and within the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bay Critical Area. MACo supported with bills with amendments allowing MACo to select is own Commission member and for the Commission to give due consideration to county efforts to address solar siting through land use policies. STATUS: SB 744 passed the Senate with the MACo amendments and other changes to the membership and scope of the Commission and is waiting for a House bill hearing. The House Environment and Transportation Committee heard HB 532 on 3/6 but has not taken any action on the bill.

HB 627/SB 610 Solar Photovoltaic Property – Personal Property Tax Exemption and Local Fee Requirement: These bills would have exempted solar equipment for utility scale solar developments from being subject to a personal property tax. Instead, the bills would have required counties to collect an annual fee based on per megawatt capacity ($2,500 per megawatt capacity on land assessed as farm or agricultural in the previous 5 years and $2,000 per megawatt capacity for all other solar photovoltaic property). MACo opposed the bills due to the mandate on county revenue authority and the significant lost revenues that would occur if the fee was instituted in lieu of the personal property tax. STATUS: Both bills were withdrawn by their sponsors.

HB 683/SB 520 Electricity – Community Solar Energy Generating Systems Pilot Program – Extension: The bills would extend the Community Solar Energy Generating Systems Pilot Program termination date from 3 to 7 years, with a minimum termination date of December 31, 2024. The bills would also remove the maximum subscriber cap under the Program and require the generating capacity cap and annual capacity limits under the Program be increased over the duration of the Program. STATUS: HB 683 has passed the House and is waiting for a Senate bill hearing. SB 520 has passed the Senate and is waiting for a House bill hearing.

HB 851 Construction of Commercial Solar Photovoltaic Systems – Clear-Cutting – Prohibition: This bill would prohibit a person from clear cutting an area equal to or larger than one-half acre to make room for a commercial solar photovoltaic system. STATUS: The House Environment and Transportation Committee heard HB 851 on 2/21 but has not taken any action on the bill.

HB 1158/SB 516 Clean Energy Jobs: The bills would increase Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard energy target to 50% by 2030, including at least 14.5% from solar and target for offshore wind as determined by the Public Service Commission. The bills also: (1) require investments from the Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Fund for small minority, women, and veteran-owned clean energy businesses and clean energy workforce development programs; (2) create a Clean Energy Workforce Account within the Maryland Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) Program; (3) establish a new offshore wind project application process; and (4) make numerous other changes to Maryland’s clean energy laws. STATUS: SB 516 passed the Senate with various amendments and is currently in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. The House Economic Matters Committee heard HB 1158 on 3/8 but has not taken any action on the bill.

SB 886 Public Utilities – Solar Photovoltaic Systems: The bill would expand the applicability of a certain deposit collected by the Public Service Commission to all solar generating stations that produce 2 megawatts or more (under current law, the deposit is only collected from solar generating stations producing 2 megawatts or more and are exempt from needing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity). The bill would also reduce the time for a solar project to begin construction or forfeit the deposit from 18 months to 1 year. STATUS: The Senate Finance Committee heard SB 886 on 3/19 but has not taken ay action on the bill.

MACo Position on Solar

MACo is supportive of solar development but believes that local zoning and siting requirements should apply to community and utility scale projects.

In terms of priorities, MACo believes that solar development should focus first on rooftop and then on grayfields (such as parking lots and warehouse rooftops) and brownfields. When solar projects need to be developed on open space, it should be in areas zoned by local governments.

Areas where large solar developments should be discouraged include prime farmland, forests, Critical Areas and wetlands, and regions of cultural or historical importance.