Suspense Over Solar in Montgomery County Council Split Vote

On Tuesday, January 27th, 2021 The Montgomery County Council voted on three amendments concerning solar farms on the County’s Agricultural Reserve.

These amendments would:

  1. Expand limitations on where solar farms could be located based on environmentally sensitive areas.
  2. Would not require site plan approval use, but would allow for conditional use of any solar facilities larger than 200% of onsite use but smaller than 2 megawatts.
  3. Require an impact report in 2023 for these solar farms looking at environmental and economic impacts.

From Bethesda Magazine:

The overall zoning proposal would prohibit solar farms on environmentally sensitive areas and Soil Classification 1 soils. Soils in the county are organized by class, with Class 1 being the most prime for agriculture…

If parks, water, steep slopes, and other environmental barriers are removed from the roughly 106,700 acres of reserve, about 33,440 acres remain.

The council supported the amendment on soil types 5-4, with Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz and Council Members Andrew Friedson, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Sidney Katz voted in favor and Council President Tom Hucker and Council Members Hans Riemer, Will Jawando, and Evan Glass voted against the amendment.

Albornoz said he supported the amendment because of an interest in protecting the reserve:

“While I do understand that it will significantly restrict where we can put solar, it doesn’t mean we can’t put solar in the Agricultural Reserve,” he said. “It also gives us the opportunity to learn from this. … This is another way for us to assess and evaluate exactly what the impacts of this technology will be as it relates to the Agricultural Reserve.”

From the Montgomery County Council’s Press Release:

“The climate emergency is now,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “Montgomery County needs to immediately substitute fossil fuel energy with clean energy on a large scale. That requires doing our part to generate solar locally, with all parts of the County contributing.”

“Every day, we see alarming evidence of climate change — from devastating wildfires and hurricanes to melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels,” Council Vice President Tom Hucker said. “We must use every tool at our disposal to cut our carbon emissions, and that means allowing community solar everywhere in Montgomery County.”