Washington County Seeks Zoning Authority for Large Solar Sites

An article in the Herald-Mail discusses how Washington County Commissioners reacted to another recent decision by a public utility law judge that has allowed Maryland’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to have the final say on a utility-scale solar site despite county opposition. The county asked their State Delegation during a pre-legislative conference to help them gain authority over project siting. Opposition to the newly approved site in Chewsville centers on aesthetic concerns and the proposition of losing prime farmland.

From the article:

The county is regrouping following a July decision by the state appeals court that the Public Service Commission, and not local government, has final authority when it comes to approving solar farms greater than 2 megawatts. The appeals court ruling also stated local government is a “significant participant in the process” and the state commission should give “due consideration” to local zoning laws in rendering its decision.

County Commissioners Wayne Keefer and Cline also sought clarification regarding state public utility law stating the commission “shall hold the public hearing jointly” with the local governing body unless that group declines to participate. What role would the commissioners have, Cline asked. Some residents believe that means the commissioners would co-chair the meeting and have a vote, but county officials don’t know for certain what that means, Cline said. [County Attorney] Downey said, from speaking to people involved in the process, it means the commissioners would sit at the front table but couldn’t chair or participate in the hearing.

As previously reported on Conduit Street MACo has articulated a position on solar siting.

MACo Position on Solar Energy Siting
MACo supports solar energy development with local zoning and siting requirements as part of the project approval process. MACo recognizes that there needs to be a mix of rooftop, community, and utility-scale solar projects to meet Maryland’s renewable energy goals and has established the following prioritization for solar projects:

  1. rooftop solar;
  2. development of solar projects on brownfields, grayfields (such as parking lots and warehouse rooftops), industrial areas, and appropriate government-owned lands (such as landfills and wastewater treatment plants); and
  3. open space zoned for solar by local governments, with appropriate protections for prime farmland, forestlands, critical areas and wetlands, environmentally sensitive areas, and areas of cultural or historical importance.

To learn more about solar siting and how state preemption affects county zoning, be sure to visit the 2019 MACo Winter Conference, “Building for the Future,” held on December 4-6, 2019, at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland.

Details follow:

Title

Let the Sunshine In: What You Need to Know About Solar Energy Siting

Description

The siting of large, utility-scale solar facilities in Maryland remains an ongoing concern for county governments. A recent Court of Appeals decision finding that the Maryland Public Service Commission can preempt local zoning on solar siting has created further worry. Panelists will discuss the current law surrounding local zoning for solar projects, best practices, and potential legislation for the 2020 Session.

Speakers

  •  Katheleen Freeman, Planning and Codes Director, Caroline County
  •  Robert Busler, Director of Business Development, Standard Solar, Inc.

Moderator

The Honorable Stephen Hershey, Jr., Maryland Senate

Date and Time

Thursday, December 5, 2019; 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Learn more about MACo’s Winter Conference:

See what it’s like!

Questions? Contact Virginia White at vwhite@mdcounties.org

 

 

 

 

 

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