Counties Wary of Solar Permitting “Fast-Tracking”

On February 16, 2023, MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson testified before the House Economic Matters Committee in opposition to HB 692 – Public Service Commission – Certificates of Public Convenience and Necessity – Local Permits.

The Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee will consider the bill’s cross-file, SB 489, on February 21.

HB 692 obligates local jurisdictions to process any local permit required under a certificate of public convenience and necessity issued by the Public Service Commission for generating stations, transmission lines, and qualified generator lead lines. Effectively, this bill eliminates the ability of counties and municipal corporations to place any regulation or restriction on the development of large-scale solar installations, and fast-tracks what is at present a nuanced and collaborative approach to balancing the land use preferences of local communities with environmentally-friendly energy policy.

Bill supporters claimed that some local governments claimed that they lacked authority to process permits related to these solar facilities. Mr. Sanderson indicated MACo’s willingness to work toward a bill to clarify matters of authority, rather than mandates permit “processing.”

From the MACo Testimony:

Decades ago, the General Assembly chose to create a state-level process to authorize and site utility scale power generation facilities. Recent court decisions have confirmed that these laws, written long before the advent of the modern widespread deployment of solar facilities, also apply to them if they are of a suitably large scale. Local authority is limited in the oversight of the location and approval of such facilities – but communities still have a stake in reasonable provisions including setbacks, line-of-sight limitations, and the like. HB 692 seeks to end even the most modest local oversight, and simply directs local government to approve and process virtually any request from a planned facility that has received State-level approval from the Public Service Commission.

More on MACo’s Advocacy:

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Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties