Counties to PSC: Keep Communities “Plugged In” On Solar Siting

This week, MACo sent a letter to Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) Executive Secretary, Andrew S. Johnston, urging the Commission to preserve the essential role of local zoning in the solar siting process.

Following a recommendation outlined in the Governor’s Task Force on Renewable Energy Development and Siting (REDS) final report, the PSC initiated a rulemaking proceeding to consider revisions to the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) process through amendments to the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 20.79. The notice from the PSC cited developer concerns over “delays due to zoning processes at the local level” in part as reasoning for the rulemaking.

CPCNs represent state approval for utility-scale energy generating facilities which are greater than 2 megawatts and for solar, typically require roughly ten acres of land. Following the decision in Washington County v. Perennial Solar, LLC, the Court of Appeals held that the PSC has the final say in the siting of utility-scale solar developments, while reasserting that the PSC is required by statute to give “due consideration” to: (1) the position of the local government on a proposed solar project; (2) the consistency of the project with the local government’s comprehensive plan and zoning; and (3) the efforts of affected parties to resolve any issues presented by the local government.

MACo submitted comments and recommendations designed to preserve the local voice in the siting of utility-scale solar while providing clarity and efficiency to the process. This could be achieved by (1) requiring early and consistent communication between developers and local government, (2) require evidence of participation in local zoning processes, and (3) make it easier for local governments to become involved in the State process.

From the letter:

In order for local governments to put forth a recommendation on proposed projects and allow the PSC to give due consideration, it is essential that the local zoning process be completed. The local zoning process provides evidentiary information that local planning experts use to examine the effects of projects on the community and determine environmental, economic, and land use impacts. A local government is also best positioned to provide the necessary information and insight into a proposed project’s consistency with local zoning and comprehensive plans. Removing local zoning and permit review from the CPCN process would significantly restrict the ability of a county and the PSC to accurately gauge the impact of a proposed SEGS project and could force the PSC into the role of a statewide land use authority.

The PSC rulemaking will begin before December 18, 2020. Stay tuned to Conduit Street for updates.

Useful Links:

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

Governor’s Task Force on Renewable Energy Development and Siting
Final Report