Frederick Appeals Biggs Ford Solar Decision

Frederick County will appeal the August ruling by a Public Utility Law Judge that would allow a 15 megawatt solar facility on roughly 100 acres of land zoned for agricultural use.

The case first went before the Public Service Commission (PSC) in February of 2017 to be considered for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN). Since then, the project has faced opposition from neighboring residents, the county’s planning commission, and the County Council. However, a Public Utility Law Judge with the PSC issued a ruling in August that would override opposition from the County, Town of Walkersville, Power Plant Research Program (PPRP), and the Commission’s technical staff. The judge cites preemption authority based on precedent from the Perennial case, and details the State’s renewable energy goals as reasoning for the decision.

From the decision:

I specifically find that the benefits of the Project and its contribution to the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (“RPS”) outweigh the Project’s inconsistency with both the County’s and the Town’s Comprehensive Plans (“CP”) and their opposition to the Project.

… the acceptance of the County’s zoning ordinance would create a dangerous precedent throughout the State, unnecessarily restrict the deployment of solar facilities, and make achieving the RPS’s increased goal of 14.5% solar renewable energy by 2030 completely unrealistic.

From coverage in the Frederick News Post:

County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) is working on an update to the county’s solar ordinance with members of the county’s agricultural community and other partners. She helped write the current ordinance, which placed the following restrictions on proposed solar arrays:

  • The project cannot exceed 10 percent of the farm’s tillable acreage, or 75 acres.
  • It cannot sit on prime farm soils.
  • It cannot be in a priority preservation area or rural legacy area.
  • It cannot be contiguous to growth areas identified in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

Keegan-Ayer said McLean’s opinion is more like taking a “hammer” to address the issue of finding sites for solar arrays and meeting the state’s renewable energy goals, versus using a “scalpel” like county officials are trying to operate with drafting the solar ordinances.

“This is a piece of prime farmland that is recognized by everyone and including people who sit on the governor’s solar task force … that is land everyone wants to protect,” Keegan-Ayer said.

The case may be appealed to the PSC, or Circuit Court. The County is in the process of drafting a a memorandum of appeal for the case.

For more information:

Conduit Street: Court of Appeals Holds Solar Siting Decisions Are Made by the State, Not by Local Zoning

Frederick News Post: Frederick County appeals Biggs Ford solar array ruling

PSC Case Docket