Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Maryland upheld state preemption on solar siting over local zoning policy.
The Maryland Supreme Court announced the decision in Frederick County v. Maryland Public Service Commission that uphold’s the state’s ability to preempt local zoning decisions when it comes to solar siting. This case upheld the ruling from Board of County Commissioners of Washington County, Maryland v. Perennial Solar, LLC, which established that the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) has the final say on the location of solar projects that require a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the PSC.
First, we conclude that the Commission did not err in considering the RPS in evaluating whether to approve Biggs Ford’s application. The Court of Appeals instructed very clearly in Perennial Solar that the Commission has broad authority over solar energy generating stations, in part, to “ensure compliance with the RPS.” 464 Md. at 623, 644. Likewise, the General Assembly delegated broad powers to the Commission to “carry out its functions,” PU § 2-112(b)(2), including ensuring compliance with the RPS and approval of CPCN applications.
Second, we cannot say the Commission failed to give due consideration to the consistency of the application with the County’s recommendations, zoning, and comprehensive plan under PU § 7-207(e)(1) and (4).3 Although the County’s interests in the preservation of prime farmland are weighty, our review in this regard is constrained under PU § 3-203, by which we must assume that the final decision of the Commission is prima facie correct, as well as the Commission’s clear preemption authority over local zoning for the siting and location of generating stations that require a CPCN. Perennial Solar, 464 Md. at 623-24, 644.
The court’s ruling was not surprising and is unlikely to change the current state of play. The Board of County Commissioners of Washington County, Maryland v. Perennial Solar, LLC case already solidified the state’s preemption authority for solar siting.
Interesting in Frederick County v. Maryland Public Service Commission, the case pitted two pro-environment policy decisions against one another, soil preservation and solar energy. This will be a continued debate as Maryland moves toward full electrification and zero carbon as strategies to combat climate change.