Conduit Street Podcast, Episode #6 – Solar, Solar… Everywhere?

Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires that renewable sources generate specified percentages of Maryland’s electricity supply each year, increasing to 25% by 2020, including 2.5% from solar energy.

On the latest episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Kevin Kinnally and Les Knapp discuss the relationship between Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and local governments.

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

Listen here:

Caroline County Hosts Public Session on Solar Energy Siting

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp was part of a panel that responded to public questions on the siting of large solar facilities at a Caroline County Public Information Session on November 28, 2017. The County held the well-attended session to address general public concerns and questions related to utility scale solar. Currently, the County is in the midst of considering a proposed zoning ordinance for solar facilities.

Besides Knapp, other panelists included representatives from the solar development industry, Maryland Public Service Commission, Maryland Power Plant Research Program, and the Caroline County planning and legal departments. The County Commissioners were also in attendance.

Knapp briefly discussed legislation ( HB 1350) passed during the 2017 Session that gave local governments a greater voice in where utility scale solar facilities should be located within their boundaries. The legislation was a MACo Legislative Initiative. Knapp noted that local authority was not absolute and that the PSC retained the right to preempt local government decisions. Knapp also covered factors that a local government should consider when developing a solar ordinance in order to minimize the likelihood of a PSC preemption and discussed how other counties have addressed solar siting.

Audience members questioned the solar application and approval process at both the state and local levels, how income and property taxes are managed for solar projects, the potential economic benefits and drawbacks of solar projects, actions taken by other counties regarding solar projects, vegetation and setback requirements, how grid capacity works, and who is responsible for dismantling a solar project that has reached the end of its useful life.

Earlier in 2017, the Caroline County Commissioners enacted a 6-month moratorium on utility scale solar development in the County while developing a new zoning ordinance that would cover the siting solar facilities. The moratorium was extended an additional two months until December 31 to allow extra time to finalize the ordinance. The Commissioners plan to formally discuss and potentially take action on the proposed ordinance  in December.

The public information session was held in Denton, Maryland, and ran from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.

Public Information Session Agenda

MACo Solar Presentation

HB 1350 of 2017

Utility Scale Solar Energy Coalition (USSEC) of Maryland Handout

Hear more about land use issues, including climate change and the pending State Development Plan, at the 2017 MACo Winter Conference, December 6-8, at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel in Cambridge, Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s 2017 Winter Conference:

 

Environmentalists Unveil 2018 Session Priorities

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters (MDLCV) hosted its annual event on November 13, 2017, where the environmental community unveiled their legislative priorities for the 2018 Session. Increasing the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and strengthening the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) were among several priorities highlighted during the event.

Forest Conservation Act

A MDLCV representative discussed pending legislation that create additional FCA protections for large contiguous tracts of older forest. The representative stressed that growth should be focused in areas that have already been developed and limit growth “out in the boondocks.”

Renewable Portfolio Standard

A MDLCV representative discussed the initiative to increase the RPS so that 50% of Maryland’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. The proposed bill would remove waste to energy plants from the RPS and also channel money towards renewable energy jobs training. The training funding would be targeted towards small businesses and minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses.

Program Open Space

A Preservation Maryland representative recounted that over $1 billion has been taken from Program Open Space (POS) and that 2016 legislation was passed to repay a small portion of that amount and make it harder to raid POS funding in future years. The environmental community will support the funding of POS according to the 2016 legislation and oppose any proposed raids of the funding.

Styrofoam Ban

A representative from Trash Free Maryland stated that an environmental coalition plans on pushing legislation that would ban Styrofoam food packaging and shipping “peanuts” in Maryland. The representative noted that: (1) Styrofoam does not degrade but instead breaks down into smaller pieces that enter both the animal and human food chains; and (2) when heated, such as in a microwave, Styrofoam releases styrene, which is a known carcinogen. The legislation will be sponsored by Delegate Brooke Lierman and Senator Cheryl Kagan.

Pesticide Ban

A representative from MDLCV discussed planned legislation that would ban the use of pesticides containing chlorophenols. The representative stated that the United States Environmental Protection Agency was set to ban its usage until the election of President Donald Trump and that it is already banned for residential usage. The proposed legislation would ban it in agricultural uses.

Public Service Commission Transparency

A MDLCV representative unveiled an initiative that would require the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to provide additional notice and transparency to communities that could be affected by the siting of utility scale energy projects. The proposed legislation would also require the PSC to look at the potential health effects a proposed energy project would have on nearby communities.

Historic Tax Credit

A representative from Preservation Maryland discussed legislation that would increase funding for the Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Credit, which currently provides about $9 million in tax breaks to qualifying historic rehabilitation projects. The representative noted that a similar Virginia credit provides about $100 million in relief and that the legislation would step up Maryland’s credit, going to $14.5 million for FY 2019.

State Historical Trust

The Preservation Maryland representative also spoke about legislation that would restore funding to several programs under the State Historical Trust within the Maryland Department of Planning, including: (1) the Trust’s capital grant program; (2) the survey and research grant program; and (3) the museum assistance fund.

MACo Testifies on Solar Siting, Forest Conservation Act

MACo Legal and Policy Analyst Les Knapp testified before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on the Maryland Forest Conservation Act (FCA) and the siting of utility scale solar energy facilities on November 1, 2017. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Committee announced that the briefing would follow up on discussions and legislation considered during the 2017 Session. Knapp testified against making changes to FCA in isolation of other forest programs and data and stressed the need for a balanced approach to solar siting that included recognition of local government planning and zoning.

MACo Testimony on FCA & Solar Energy Siting

Forest Conservation Act

Knapp noted that during the 2017 Session, MACo had opposed HB 599 Forest Conservation Act – Exemption, Reforestation Rate, and Forest Conservaton Fund – Alterations, which among other things increased the minimum reforestation rate to 1 acre for every acre removed.

Knapp: (1) reiterated the reasons for MACo’s opposition to the bill; (2) urged that data from all of Maryland’s forest programs should be considered and not just data from the FCA; and (3) stated that MACo could look at some aspects of the FCA, such as the creation of regional or statewide mitigation banking. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo opposed HB 599, noting the significant fiscal challenges the bill would pose for local governments, citizens, developers, and utilities. The costs for local government development and redevelopment projects will increase. The bill would also lead to higher utility costs on local governments, businesses, and citizens of the state.

Furthermore, MACo questioned the need for the bill, noting that Maryland is maintaining its tree canopy coverage established under Maryland’s recently established “No Net Loss of Forest” policy. The policy, along with other reforestation and afforestation requirements found under the Chesapeake Bay Program and stormwater treatment best management practices, were implemented long after the FCA was created. MACo believes all forest conservation programs and efforts should be considered rather than narrowly looking at FCA data.

MACo remains adamantly opposed to the provisions of HB 599 for the reasons stated in this testimony. However, MACo acknowledges there are implementation problems with the FCA. One particular frustration voiced by local program managers is the lack of flexibility in spending fee-in-lieu money on reforestation or afforestation projects. Projects can be very challenging and time-consuming to assemble, and large fee-in-lieu balances can accumulate while a project is being put together.

One potential solution is the creation of a regional or statewide mitigation banking system. MACo would be willing to consider and could potentially support legislation enacting such a system. MACo is also willing to consider other alternative reforms to the FCA that do not modify the reforestation rate.

Representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) testified that the FCA should focus on “primary forests” – large tracts of contiguous forest that can be located in rural or urban areas. CBF may propose to alter the reforestation rate when developing on these primary forests. CBF also stated that it was looking at mitigation banking and other ways to allow fee-in-lieu monies collected by local governments to be spent.

A representative from the Department of Natural Resources testified that Maryland must maintain a tree canopy of 40% under Maryland’s No Net Loss policy. Based on the most recent Chesapeake Bay Conservancy and United States Forest Service data, Maryland has a tree canopy coverage of 51% and between 2011 and 2016 actually saw a small increase in tree covered land (about 1,000 acres or 0.1%).

Solar Energy Siting

Knapp also reiterated MACo’s concerns with HB 863 State Agricultural and Conservation Property Interests – Solar Facilities (Right to Solar Farm) from the 2017 Session. HB 863 would have allowed broad solar development on lands subject to a Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) easement, a Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) easement, or management by the Rural Legacy Board. Knapp highlighted the importance of solar projects but stressed that their siting must be balanced against other equally valid long term land use concerns. Knapp also referenced the work of MACo and many other stakeholders on HB 1305 of 2017, which gave local governments a greater voice in the siting of all utility scale energy generation facilities, including solar. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo also opposed HB 863, noting that while well intentioned, the bill would upset both state and local government long-term land use planning and land preservation goals that have been in development for decades. The State and local governments work closely to identify properties or areas suitable for MALPF easements or a Rural Legacy designation (the same is true with MET properties, but to a slightly lesser extent). These decisions are based on sustaining production agriculture and the secondary industries associated with it, protecting natural and scenic lands, and preserving unique rural cultures. Once these are lost, they are permanently gone. For all of its benefits, ill-planned and rushed solar development can have the same negative impacts as other forms of development.

MACo recognizes the role utility scale solar does play in helping to meet Maryland’s green energy goals and last session worked with a broad range of stakeholders, including the Public Service Commission (PSC), local governments, environmental groups, land conservation and historic preservation groups, energy developers, and public utilities to draft and pass [HB 1305 of 2017] that provided a thoughtful and reasonable approach to the siting of utility scale solar facilities. MACo would oppose any proposal that would disrupt the hard work and consensus-driven approach of that legislation.

Representatives from the solar industry voiced frustration with variations in how counties approached solar development and noted that the primary limitation was transmission capacity within the electrical grid. Several solar developers complained about county involvement, with a representative from One Energy stating that most counties do not recognize the value of solar energy projects. A representative from Cypress Creek Renewables argued for more consistent local land use requirements.

However, 1000 Friends of Maryland and other stakeholders testified that solar siting must be balanced out against preserving agricultural land, historical sites, and environmentally sensitive areas. They noted that solar development can be done on brownfields and greyfields and that small scale projects – rooftop and commercial scale – should be encouraged.

The Maryland Sierra Club agreed with removing development roadblocks for brownfields and rooftop solar. The Sierra Club stated it was developing model zoning regulations for counties to use in proactive solar planning. The Club raised concerns about transparency issues in different counties and counties setting size limits on individual solar projects (the Club was still considering its position on total acreage cap for all solar projects).

Committee Chair Kumar Barve announced that he was not going to be reintroducing HB 863. Barve stated that it was important to keep solar competitive with natural gas. Barve also stated that it will be “a big challenge” to increase Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio standard to 50% during the 2018 Session and that increasing the standard to 100% was not going to be considered for the Session.

 

 

MDE Withdraws, Resubmits Nutrient Trading Regulations

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) released draft regulations that would establish a water quality nutrient credit trading program on October 11, 2017. MACo’s concerns with the original draft version were limited and generally technical in nature. However, MDE recently announced the withdrawal of that version of the draft regulations and has resubmitted an amended draft that potentially raises additional county concerns.

There are four key changes in the amended version of the draft regulations:

  1. Water quality projects that received State or federal funding can still be sold to generate a credit but the credit amount will now be reduced/pro-rated because of the funding. Public funding from county or municipal sources is not subject to being pro-rated.
  2. Reduces the ability of wastewater treatment plants to participate in trading by increasing their qualifying nitrogen baseline from 3.5 mg/l to 3.0 mg/l.
  3. Adds an additional requirement that credits used in a locally impaired waterway must be generated within that waterway or upstream of the credit user’s discharge.
  4. Removes the option for an interstate trading pilot program.

MACo and county staff are reviewing the draft regulation changes and MACo will be offering a response shortly. The new public hearing date for the amended draft regulations is Monday, December 18, from 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm at MDE headquarters in Baltimore City.

MDE Nutrient Credit Trading Draft Regulations – Revised 2017-11-08

Perdue Moves Forward With Poultry Litter Composting

A Delmarva Farmer article (2017-11-03) reported that Perdue AgriBusiness has invested $12 million in a new composting facility for poultry litter at its Perdue AgriRecycle facility near Seaford, Delaware. Composting represents a new approach to poultry litter disposal, which has traditionally heated and pelletized into fertilizer. As the article explained, composting uses less energy, causes less wear on processing machinery, can treat larger volumes of poultry waste, and creates a smaller environmental footprint than pelletizing. From the article:

“Sixteen years ago [pelletizing] was state-of-the-art technology. We take a continuous look at technologies. There are any number of technologies for alternate uses of poultry litter. We’re looking for commercially viable technologies with which we don’t end up with an additional by-product,” [Perdue Farms Director of Corporate Communications Joe Forsthoffer] continued. …

Composting has the advantage of reducing the energy required to convert the raw poultry litter to a marketable product, and uses a biological process rather than mechanical.

Composting also expands the capability to handle other poultry byproducts — not only litter, but hatchery waste and the fat and blood nutrients from processing plant waste water which used to be land applied. …

“[Our poultry compost] is a very stable product,” [Perdue AgriBusiness Vice President of Ag Services Scott] Raubenstine continued. “There are 12 specs we must hit before we sell it. We feel it is the best in the country, and this is the cleanest facility in the country.”

The article also explained Perdue’s composting process and stated that the entire process takes 60-70 days. The article noted that the composting facility is now fully operational and the poultry compost is being tested both locally and in New York.

 

E&T Committee Holds Open Work Session on Forest Conservation Act, Solar Siting

The House Environment and Transportation (E&T) Committee has announced it will be holding an open work session on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, to further study: (1) the Forest Conservation Act; and (2) solar energy and land management. The Committee will likely consider whether legislation in either of these areas is warranted for the 2018 Session.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Forest Conservation Act reform was a major initiative by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental groups during the 2018 Session. Likewise, the siting of utility scale solar and other generation facilities resulted in legislation, including a successful MACo Legislative Initiative that gave local governments a greater voice in the siting process. However, legislation was also considered that would have allowed solar development on preserved agricultural lands. (HB 863 of 2017).

The E&T work session is set to begin a 1:00 pm and will be similar to a bill hearing in that interested parties may sign up and testify on either or both topics. A witness sign-up sheet will be located in the E&T hearing room (Room 251 in the House Office Building) starting at 9:00 am. If you want to bring handouts, 30 copies are required.

MACo plans to testify on both issues.

Useful Links

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Forest Conservation Act

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of MACo Energy Siting Initiative

HB 863 of 2017

E&T Committee Web Page

 

MDE Releases Draft Nutrient Credit Trading Regulations

A Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) news release (2017-10-11) announced the release of draft regulations that would establish a water quality nutrient credit trading program. The draft regulations culminate a series of attempts that began in 2012 to establish a viable nutrient credit trading program. MACo believes a strong trading program can assist local governments in meeting their water quality goals under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. From the MDE news release:

The Maryland Department of the Environment has proposed regulations to establish the Maryland Water Quality Trading Program and accelerate the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay while bringing economic benefits to Maryland. The regulations are proposed under Maryland environmental law to ensure enforcement and accountability under the federal Clean Water Act.

The proposed regulations are designed to provide greater flexibility and reduce costs in achieving Maryland’s goals under its blueprint to meet federal pollution limits for the Bay. The voluntary program would establish a marketplace for private sector participation in meeting Bay cleanup goals.

Nutrient and sediment credit trading offer attractive alternatives to more costly traditional approaches for improving water quality and have the potential to achieve results more quickly and at a lower cost, accelerating efforts to restore and improve water quality. The trading program that would be established by the proposed regulations expands opportunities for all sources by giving them access to a water quality marketplace and flexibility in meeting and maintaining their pollution limits by acquiring credits generated from load reductions in local watersheds in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“Maryland is a leader in reducing greenhouse gases and is now poised to make similar gains for clean water with nutrient credit trading,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “We can speed up the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and reduce the cost of restoration with innovative partnerships and regulatory safeguards.”

The proposed regulations were developed with significant input from the Maryland Water Quality Trading Advisory Committee. Earlier this year, the Maryland Departments of the Environment and Agriculture published a draft “Maryland Trading and Offset Policy and Guidance Manual” in consultation with the Advisory Committee.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), with pollution limits and load allocations for the pollutants nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment. Maryland developed a Watershed Implementation Plan, or blueprint, that allocates pollution loads for the wastewater, stormwater, septic, agricultural and forest sectors.

The Maryland Water Quality Trading Program will allow agricultural sources that have reduced their pollution beyond the required “baseline” to produce credits that can be purchased by counties or municipalities to meet Bay cleanup requirements to reduce polluted stormwater runoff. The cost of reducing nitrogen could be as low as $200 per pound in the agriculture sector, compared to an estimated $3,800 per pound for urban retrofits to reduce stormwater runoff.

The proposed regulations include mechanisms for the Department of the Environment to certify credits for trading. The certification process relies heavily on EPA Chesapeake Bay Program modeling tools, expert panel reviews of Best Management Practices and other technical and policy support. The Department of the Environment’s review would include limits on the geography within which a trade can take place and evaluate expected improvements in water quality.

The Department of the Environment submitted the proposed regulations yesterday to the Administrative Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee for a 15-day review. The Department expects to submit proposed regulations for publication in the Maryland Register in November. A public comment period would follow that publication.

Useful Links

MDE Draft Nutrient Credit Trading Regulations

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Nutrient Credit Trading

Delmarva Farmer Editorial: Goodbye to Waters of the US Rule Change

A Delmarva Farmer editorial (2017-10-06) recounted the history of the controversial change in the definition of “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) for purposes of implementing the federal Clean Water Act, noted its demise under United States President Donald Trump, and expressed optimism that farmers will have a voice in changing the rule going forward.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and United States Army  Corps of Engineers proposed and adopted a rule that would expand the WOTUS definition to include streams, wetlands, and intermittent water flows – making them subject to Clean Water Act permitting and mitigation requirements. MACo joined with the National Association of Counties (NACo) in expressing concern that the proposed definition included stormwater drain pipes and roadside drainage ditches. However, the new definition never took effect as the rule change spawned significant litigation and a federal court froze the rule’s implementation. Subsequently, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that reverted the WOTUS definition to the version that existed before the proposed changed.

From the editorial:

In response to Trump’s executive order in February, the EPA announced that it would formally repeal the WOTUS rule and the work was slated to begin on writing a new rule which would provide farmers with clarity and certainty, reduce red tape, and not discourage farming practices that improve water quality.

It now seems reasonably certain that WOTUS, in its original concept, will end up in the federal waste basket and that the nation’s farmers will have a say in what will replace it.

Useful Links

Conduit Street Article on Trump WOTUS Executive Order

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Waters of the US

NACo WOTUS Resource Page

Board of Public Works Approves $23 Million In Rural Legacy Grants

The Board of Public Works unanimously adopted a Maryland Department of Natural Resources recommendation approving 17 Rural Legacy Program grants – totaling over $23 million. Funding from these grants will permanently protect over 6,500 acres of working farms, forests and open space in 18 counties.

According to a press release:

The projects include protecting productive farmland, natural habitat, scenic view sheds, shorelines, wetlands, and woodlands as well as cultural, historical, and natural resources.

Established in 1997, the Rural Legacy Program is designed to preserve large tracts of productive and valuable agricultural and forested lands that contain exceptional features. The program acts through local government or private land trust sponsors to purchase conservation easements from willing property owners in 31 locally-designated rural areas located in every county. To date, the program has permanently protected 91,398 acres.

Here is a listing of Rural Legacy Program grants (alphabetically by area):

Read the full press release for more information.