How we are fighting for community solar in Maryland!

By Zach Schalk on March 22, 2018

Two years ago, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Community Solar Pilot Program. Since then, Solar United Neighbors has worked to educate Marylanders and advocate for the zoning laws needed to ensure that a thoughtful community solar program can thrive here in Maryland. Right now, our supporters in two key counties are working hard to make community solar a success in their area.

Community solar is a simple concept. It makes the benefits of solar—lower electricity bills, improved community health, and economic development, to name a few—available to those unable to go solar today. Whether their roof is shaded, or if they live in an apartment or condo and don’t own their own roof, Maryland’s community solar pilot program will allow them to subscribe to a community solar project and experience the energy freedom enjoyed by solar homeowners. Community solar also creates good local jobs that help to boost the local economy. A portion of the program is set aside for low- and moderate-income residents, which will help to make the solar energy market more equitable and inclusive.

Despite the widespread benefits, community solar is not always welcomed with open arms. Concerned residents often don’t want large solar installations right next to their homes or dotting the picturesque landscapes that paint the Maryland countryside. Farmers worried about encroaching development are more interested in preserving their existing way of life than competing with a solar farm next door.

However, when developed properly, solar is not in competition with agriculture or with preserving the ideals of a rural landscape. On the contrary, community solar can provide another tool to help farmers successfully work their land and, through the addition of pollinator friendly standards, can contribute to the maintenance of a healthy farm and rural landscape across the state. Community solar will never force a farmer to sell their land or to install solar on it. Solar is a choice some farmers can make to help their farms be profitable all year long. Pollinator friendly standards can help farmers increase yields, decrease the dangerous runoff that plagues Maryland’s waterways, and preserve a vital element of our ecosystem. Solar projects can be a way for energy advocates, environmentalists, and farmers to work together to benefit all Marylanders.

As implementation of the Community Solar Pilot Program rolls out across the state, a few areas have been stymied by local zoning regulation. We are currently working with our community of solar supporters in Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County to make sure local zoning provisions are compatible with community solar in their area.

Montgomery County – ZTA 18-01

Right now, Montgomery County zoning laws prevent community solar projects from being built, which means county residents can’t enjoy the direct benefits that come from community solar as we discussed above. However, Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 18-01 would change that by allowing projects to be developed in the county. While we’re supportive of ZTA 18-01, and glad to see it introduced by the County Council, we don’t think it goes far enough.

We are advocating that ZTA 18-01 be amended to make it even stronger by allowing a limited, pollinator friendly amount of the Agricultural reserve available for community solar projects. Opening a small portion of the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve will give farmers more choices and add sorely needed revenue by producing these community benefits on their own land. No farmer would be forced to pursue a community solar project on their property.

We appreciate the need to protect agricultural land in Montgomery County, and the important role this land plays for the communities that live and rely on this land. We believe that our recommendation is consistent with that position. In fact, it will only serve to strengthen these communities by providing great economic choices and freedoms to farmers in the area while making only a minimal impact on the landscape. Our estimates show that only 0.43% of the total Agricultural Reserve in Montgomery County would be directly impacted by potential community solar projects under our proposal.

If you support this ZTA and community solar in Montgomery county please sign our petition and show the County Council that this ZTA, with our amendment, is the best way forward for Montgomery County.

Fight for Montgomery County community solar

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Anne Arundel County Moratorium

On December 3, 2017, the County Executive Steve Schuh and the Anne Arundel County Office of Planning and Zoning announced an immediate eight-month moratorium on large solar projects including community solar projects. When this moratorium was announced, there were already projects in the works. This moratorium has put a hold on the benefits of community solar for the residents of Anne Arundel County. We are asking the County Executive to lift this damaging moratorium so that his constituents can access the benefits of community solar. If you agree that this moratorium should be lifted, please act now by signing our petition!

With your help and the support of solar, energy freedom, agricultural, and environmental advocates across these two counties, we can help extend access to solar energy and its benefits to all Marylanders!