Forest Conservation, Renewable Energy Among Key Priorities at 2018 Environmental Summit

Once again it was standing room only at the 24th annual Maryland Environmental Legislative Summit as the environmental community unveiled its key legislative initiatives for the 2018 Session. The initiatives include: (1) reforming the Forest Conservation Act; (2) increasing the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and providing clean energy jobs training; (3) increasing the transparency of the Public Service Commission; (4) ensuring adequate funding in the State budget for environmental enforcement; and (5) enacting a statewide Styrofoam ban. The Summit was held on January 18, 2018, in the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis.

Many of Maryland’s top elected and environmental officials made opening remarks. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller; Speaker of the House Michael Busch, and Maryland Secretary of the Environment Benjamin Grumbles all praised Maryland’s approach to environmental issues but each also highlighted an issue that remains an ongoing challenge. Miller mentioned environmental policy rollbacks and budget cuts happening at the federal level, Busch argued against offshore drilling, while Grumbles discussed climate change. House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar Barve discussed energy issues and water quality and noted, “Stormwater is the fastest growing form of [water] pollution in Maryland.” Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chair Joan Carter Conway expressed her support of the environmentalists’ legislative agenda.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh directed his comments towards the federal government, characterizing the Administration of President Donald Trump as an “enormous threat” to the environment and United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt as a “lapdog of the fossil fuel industry.” Frosh noted the many lawsuits Maryland has brought against the EPA and also criticized the recent federal offshore drilling proposals.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker made three key points in his comments: (1) Maryland environmentalists well organized; (2) forest conservation in Maryland must be strengthened; and (3) while there has been significant progress made in restoring the Chesapeake Bay, there is still much work that must be done.

Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions President Bob Perciasepe served as the keynote speaker and offered a national and global perspective on energy and climate issues. Perciasepe was followed by speakers from different environmental groups who each discussed one of the five environmental priorities for the 2018 Session. A more detailed description of each priority can be found in the Summit’s agenda (linked below).

Useful Links

2018 Environmental Summit Agenda and Priority Descriptions

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Maryland Environmental Summit

Here are the Key Chesapeake Bay Restoration Issues Facing the 2018 MD, VA, & PA Legislatures

Bay Journal article (2018-01-03) highlighted the Chesapeake Bay issues that will be debated by the legislatures of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The article noted that many of the issues are not new and have been debated  previously.

MARYLAND

The article noted that Maryland will consider legislation to: (1) strengthen Maryland’s Forest Conservation Act; (2) increase Maryland’s renewable energy targets; and (3) regulate air pollution from poultry houses. From the article:

Forest Conservation: Lawmakers in Annapolis are being pressed by environmental groups to take another look at tightening the state’s 27-year-old forest conservation law. …

As originally passed in 1991, the Forest Conservation Act regulates the removal of large numbers of trees for development and requires either that new ones be planted elsewhere or that the developer pay into a local government fund for later plantings. …

[Activists] contend that the 1991 law has been particularly ineffective at saving the largest and most ecologically valuable woodlands. …

“When there’s intact forest ecology, that’s basically the most important kind of forest, and that’s the forest the act is doing the least to benefit,” said Elaine Lutz, a staff attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. …

Local government officials remain wary of tightening the law, but say they’d like to have more flexibility in where trees must be replanted and how they can spend funds paid by developers in lieu of replanting removed trees. But real estate interests argue the law is working and does not need a major overhaul.

“The Forest Conservation Act was never meant to be a no-net-loss policy,” said Lori Graf, chief executive officer of the Maryland Building Industry Association. The law is just one of several laws and programs aimed at halting the loss of the state’s forestland, she said, and recent data indicate the goal of maintaining the state’s overall forest acreage is being met.

Renewable Energy Targets: The article indicated that environmental advocates plan on introducing legislation that would require Maryland to generate 50 percent of its energy through renewable sources by 2030 and possibly require 100 percent by 2035. The legislation would also stop waste to energy plants from being counted as a renewable energy source.

Poultry House Air Emissions: The article noted that the Maryland General Assembly will be debating the Community Healthy Air Act, which would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to collect and report data on chicken house air emissions, including ammonia which is found in chicken waste.

VIRGINIA

According to the article, Virginia will tackle three key issues: (1) Bay restoration funding; (2) funding to upgrade the City of Alexandria’s failing waste water system; and (3) the disposal of coal ash.

Bay Restoration Funding: While the article notes that all three states will be challenged to provide sufficient funding to meet their Bay restoration goals, Virginia Bay advocates will be introducing a pair of bills to provide $69.5 million in additional funding. The first bill would add $19.5 million to the $42.5 million outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe including in his proposed budget for agricultural best management practices (bringing the total to $62 million). The second bill would add $50 million to Virginia’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund in future budget years. The Fund, which provides money to local governments for stormwater remediation projects, received no funding under McAuliffe’s budget.

Alexandria Sewer Overflows: McAuliffe’s proposed budget includes $20 million for Alexandria to address its chronic sewage overflows.

Coal Ash Disposal: The article indicated the Virginia legislature will consider a bill that would encourage Dominion Energy to recycle coal ash, such as using it in concrete, rather than storing it in covered pits near Bay tributaries.

PENNSYLVANIA

The Pennsylvania legislature will wrestle with: (1) funding Bay cleanup costs; (2) regulation and training for lawn fertilizer applicators; and (3) creation of a water fee.

Bay Restoration Funding for Animal Manure Processing: The article stated that Pennsylvania will be taking up the Clean Water Procurement bill, which would establish a $50 million yearly fund with payments from the state’s municipalities. The payments would be in lieu of municipalities having to do their own stormwater projects. The Fund would providing financing to private industry to address animal manure waste from the agricultural sector.  Municipal associations are opposed to the bill.

Regulation of Lawn Fertilizer Applicators: Pennsylvania will also be considering legislation that limits amount of fertilizer that can be applied to lawns and requires lawn care and landscaping company personnel to be trained and certified before they can apply lawn fertilizer. Similar legislation has already passed in both Maryland and Virginia.

Water Fee: Finally, the article indicated that Pennsylvania legislature will review a study report on proposed legislation to add a 0.01 cent fee per gallon of water withdrawn for commercial or industrial purposes. The fee would only apply to withdrawals of more than 10,000 gallons and is expected to raise $250 million a year.

Frederick News-Post Argues For Local Role in Siting Solar Facilities

Frederick News-Post editorial (2017-12-17) argued that local governments should play a role in the siting of large scale solar facilities and urged the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to consider local zoning and land use when deciding to accept or reject a recent recommendation from a public utility law judge. As the article states, Public Utility Law Judge Ryan McLean recently denied Coronal Energy’s proposed Biggs Ford Solar Center near Walkersville in Frederick County. The denial becomes permanent January 5, 2018, unless there is an appeal or the PSC overrides the decision.

While supporting the denial, the News-Post expressed concern about language in the judge’s opinion regarding the role of local governments in the solar siting process. Legislation based on a MACo Legislative Initiative passed during the 2017 Session (HB 1350) that requires the PSC to consider whether a proposed energy project is consistent with local comprehensive plans and zoning before approving or denying the project. Frederick County had adopted new zoning requirements for solar projects after the passage of HB 1350 but Coronal Energy had applied for the Biggs Ford project prior to the adoption of the new ordinance and refused to reapply under the new ordinance or even acknowledge the county’s role.

From the editorial:

Local jurisdictions need to have a say on whether large-scale power projects can proceed. …

While [McLean] is correct that the county wants to limit the size and placement of such projects, we disagree that the intent was to ban them completely. The county proposed to go slowly on creating huge arrays, so that officials can see the full impact on the community. …

The judge might well rule the county’s law is too broad or poorly written, but to allow a state agency’s opinion to stand without considering the local law seems to contradict the intent of the requirement that local reviewers be considered. As long as the local authority is not unreasonably holding up a project, its wishes should carry substantial weight. …

Now the issue is before the PSC. We believe the commissioners should tread carefully here. They should not trample the rights of local officials and the residents they represent. Frederick County has a right to be heard on such an important decision.

Environmental Groups Argue Exelon Can Help Address Conowingo Dam & Still Be Profitable

Bay Journal article (2017-12-05) reported that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and The Nature Conservancy released a study on the role Exelon should play in addressing the water pollution issued caused by the Conowingo Dam. The study, conducted by Energy+Environmental Economics and the Water and Power Law Group, found that the dam generates between $27 million and $44 million annually in additional revenue (beyond industry standards). Based on those results, CBF and The Nature Conservancy argued that Exelon can play a role in mitigating the pollution caused by the dam’s reservoir while still remaining profitable. The article contained comments from both environmental groups and Exelon:

An Exelon spokeswoman responded with a statement disputing the study’s estimates of the dam’s future revenues and profitability, saying they are based on “flawed assumptions and theories.”  Deena O’Brien, the spokeswoman, said that the company is committed to being a good neighbor, but shouldn’t be held accountable for pollution passing through the dam.

“It’s important to note that Conowingo’s operations do not generate sediment,” O’Brien said. “Most of the sediment that impacts the Bay comes from upstream sources.  As such, the regional sources of sediment across the basin should take joint responsibility for the issue, not a single company or entity.” …

“We are not looking to have Exelon be responsible for everything that is no longer being trapped because of the reservoir being full,” Alison Prost, Maryland director of the Bay Foundation, said in a conference call with reporters.

Rather, said Mark Bryer, the conservancy’s Chesapeake Bay director, the groups want Exelon to mitigate the dam’s impact in two different ways — by funding some pollution reduction measures elsewhere that would offset what’s now being passed downriver, and by altering the flows of water through the dam.

 

The article also noted that the public has until January 15 to submit written comments on Exelon’s Conwingo Dam relicensing application with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). MDE’s approval is the final permission Exelon needs to complete the federal/state relicensing process. The public should send comment to Elder Ghigiarelli, Jr.,  Deputy Administrator, Wetlands and Waterways Program, Water and Science Administration, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Boulevard, Suite 430, Baltimore, MD 21230, or email them to elder.ghigiarelli@maryland.gov.

CBF press release (2017-12-05) provided greater detail on the the environmental groups’ point of view :

A new study commissioned by [CBF] and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) shows Exelon Generation Company can mitigate a substantial portion of environmental impacts caused by its Conowingo Dam operation, while continuing to make a healthy profit.

“The good news that comes with this report is that Conowingo’s environmental performance can be brought into the 21st century with effective mitigation measures while the dam continues to provide low carbon energy and Exelon receives a reasonable return on its investment,” said Mark Bryer, TNC’s Chesapeake Program Director. …

“More pollution will come through the Conowingo Dam and into the Bay than scientists previously calculated,” said CBF President Will Baker. “Exelon has the responsibility and revenue to pay for its share of the solution.” …

Recent studies affirmed that while most of the sediment and phosphorus in the dam reservoir originates upstream, the dam itself also worsens downstream water quality because it alters the form of the sediments and phosphorus and the timing of their discharge. Other studies have shown that Conowingo discharges water in a way that is more harmful to fish and habitat than average dams elsewhere.

Exelon has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a new operating license for the Conowingo Dam. Under federal law and FERC’s relicensing process, Exelon is required to obtain a Clean Water Act Water Quality Certification from MDE. Exelon must demonstrate that the dam’s operation meets Maryland’s water quality standards. MDE will hold a public hearing on the certification today, December 5, 2017. The public has until January 15, 2018 to submit written comments.

CBF and TNC both are scheduled to testify at the public hearing. They will urge that MDE require Exelon to: 1) mitigate the harm the dam causes to downstream water quality, including a financial contribution to mitigate sediment and nutrient pollution; 2) make operational changes to restore safe and effective habitat for migratory fish like American shad and striped bass–and for keystone species like freshwater mussels and aquatic vegetation; and 3) make structural investments to restore fish passage connectivity to upstream spawning habitats.

Useful Links

Conowingo Dam Economic Study

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Website

The Nature Conservancy Website

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of the Conowingo Dam

New Bay Goals May Include Projected Growth & Land Use Changes

Bay Journal article (2017-12-03) reported that the state-federal Bay Program is considering whether to incorporate 2025 growth projections for  both humans and farm animals into the pending water pollution goals of the third and final phase of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). The new TMDL targets for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment will also take into account projected land use changes.

The article noted that the population within the Bay watershed is projected to grow to 19.4 million (an 11.5% increase from 2010) by 2025. From the agricultural side, farm animal populations (especially chickens) and cultivated cropland are also expected to increase. From the article:

Now, Bay Program participants have tentatively agreed on techniques to forecast county-level trends in population, land use and agriculture into the future. Those projections can be used to predict what the landscape will look like in 2025 — and the amount of nutrient reductions that will be needed to meet Bay cleanup goals under those conditions.

Any reductions needed to offset that growth can be assigned to each state next year when they develop new watershed implementation plans — or WIPs — which will guide cleanup efforts through the 2025 deadline. Those growth projections would then be updated every two years. …

It’s not yet clear exactly how much that will alter the estimates of nutrient reductions that are needed to meet cleanup goals. “We’re not talking about huge increases,” said Peter Claggett, a research geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey who has been working to develop the land use projections. “Probably a couple percent.”

The article explained, however, that the burden for growth would not be evenly spread and some regions in Maryland may have higher targets than others. For example, the Eastern Shore and parts of Pennsylvania would have to address pollution generated by growth in poultry production while the Interstate 95 and I-81 corridors would have to offset new growth replacing forested land.

In the article, Claggett advocated that the growth projections could help states and local governments make better long-term land use and water pollution decisions. However, Chesapeake Bay Senior Water Quality Scientist Beth McGee expressed concern that the growth projections could also become a self-fulfilling prophecy and shift the pollution reduction burden from developers to governments:

“Our issue with building the WIPs on the forecasts is you are sort of baking development growth into the process,” [McGee] said. “It is just a given that this new development is going to occur.” …

Instead of placing the burden of offsetting new pollution loads on developers, she said, it shifts the responsibility of planning for the impact of growth to state and local governments.

The article also discussed the opportunities to create incentives and educate the public on the importance of land and forest conservation. The issue about whether to use growth targets will be decided by a group of state and federal officials in December of 2017.

 

 

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