Attendees to the MACo 2019 December Winter Conference learned about some best practices and tools for solar siting during the “Let the Sunshine In: What You Need to Know About Solar Energy Siting” panel on December 5.
Caroline County Planning and Codes Director Katheleen Freeman outlined the stakeholder process used by the County to develop its utility-scale solar zoning. Freeman stated that the County established a short moratorium on utility-scale solar projects an formed two stakeholder workgroups – one for land use issues and one for taxation issues. The final result was an ordinance that requires: (1) preliminary site plan approval by the County’s planning commission; (2) a special use exception through the Board of Zoning Appeals; and (3) final site plan approval through the planning commission. There is a aggregate acreage cap on utility-scale solar based on acres of existing farmland and grid capacity and notification requirements for the County and affected municipalities. Freeman stressed that stakeholder involvement was very important.
Standard Solar Director of Business Development Robert Busler explained the different scales of solar projects, including: residential, net-metered, community, and utility-scale. Busler stated that Standard Solar prefers to develop solar sites first on landfills, brownfields, and wastewater treatment plants; second on underutilized open land and non-farmland; and third on farmland that is promoted by an institution or farmer. Busler provided examples of successful and well-received projects in each category and recommended counties investigate the NOAA Coast Smart sea-level rise mapping tool.
Chesapeake Conservancy Geospatial Program Manager Susan Minnemeyer discussed the Conservancy’s pilot program to find optimal solar sites in Baltimore County and Baltimore City. The pilot program accounts for benefits, adverse impacts, and equity. Minnemeyer noted that additional policies and incentives may be needed to encourage solar development on identified optimal sites. The Conservancy uses high resolution data at a scale of 1 meter to identify optimal sites based on environment, social equity, and efficiency factors. Sites include urban, suburban, and rural areas. Minnemeyer stated that putting solar energy on forest land is almost double the carbon emissions for solar on non-forested land, but is still better than natural gas or coal. The pilot program will be completed in early 2020. Preliminary findings include 4000 identified optimal sites on 14,000 acres (including 750 acres of parking lots and rooftops in rural Baltimore County). Assuming Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio goals requires about 15,000 acres, Minnemeyer stated the proportional development in Baltimore County would be about 825 acres.
Maryland Senator Stephen Hershey, Jr. moderated the panel.