For much more information on the ride or to register, click here.
Want to learn more about the Reserve, this year's routes and how your support helps local farms? The routes will be unveiled over two zoom sessions with Ride Chair and Reserve Cyclist Vivien Bonazzi. Join us live or watch the recorded sessions. These Zooms are open to registered and not-yet-registered riders. The first of two sessions will cover the new Routes in the Ag Reserve (on 9/3), the second will cover riding your stationary bike at home with other riders over online platform Zwift (on 9/9.) You can see the Zwift route (based on the Tour de France, but not the super hilly part) below. (unsure what set up you need for Zwift? This video is helpful)
For much more information on the ride or to register, click here.
Among the issues to balance in citing renewable energy is protection of other natural resources - particularly trees that are providing their own complimentary carbon sequestration. So it goes with ZTA 20-01 - a proposal to site commercial solar arrays on up to 3 square miles of Montgomery County's Agricultural Reserve. We've fielded lots of questions about how this proposal will protect farmland soils, water quality and forests. The answer is that this proposal is moving toward the Council with very scant protections for forests/water quality and soils.
Please take two minutes to contact the Council today.
Currently the ZTA leaves forest protection to the individual site plans for each property, meaning forests protections will be done on a case by case basis at the Planning Board. One county resident with questions dug into how this might play out by looking at a 6 acre array installed by the Town of Poolesville that cleared nearly 3.4 acres of forest to install arrays (the right side of the array as can be seen in the site plan below). Their digging has uncovered that forest conservation laws may not apply to utilities. It begs the question - under the proposed ZTA, can established forests be cut down to accommodate solar arrays?
The resident who has been digging into this issue posed the following questions to ZTA backers at the MoCo Sierra Club and is awaiting a response (bolding below is ours) (see: What some local civic groups are misunderstanding about commercial solar in the Reserve)
"I wanted to bring this issue up because I have been trying to get a clear and definitive answer and I am hoping the Sierra Club can be of assistance. I saw that the Sierra Club is hosting an upcoming webinar on the topic. After Councilmember Riemer recently introduced the solar ZTA for the Ag Reserve he stated that people shouldn't worry about tree or forest loss because the Forest Conservation Law would take care of it.
Around that time, I started looking at the 6-acre solar project that was built in Poolesville in 2014 by Standard Solar as part of a public-private partnership. I looked back at the satellite imagery and got the records through DPS (pictures above). It turns out that 3.4 acres of forest were cut down for the solar panels. DPS states that they did not require a forest conservation plan or any mitigation - but suggested I ask the Town of Poolesville. The manager for the Town said that they went back through their files and had no records of a forest conservation plan or mitigation documents for the project. Montgomery Planning also did not have any records since Poolesville is not under their jurisdiction. The Town manager said he thought that maybe the project had been exempted from the forest conservation law because it was considered a utility (but he wasn't sure because there were no records). I still have Montgomery County looking into it but so far this is all anyone has been able to tell me.
The Forest Conservation Law (Chapter 22A) does in fact provide the following exemption -
(5) The cutting or clearing of public utility rights-of-way or land for electric generating stations licensed pursuant to § 7-204 , § 7-205 , § 7-207 , or § 7-208 of the Public Utilities Article , provided that:
(i) Any required certificates of public convenience and necessity have been issued in accordance with § 5-1603(f) of this subtitle; and
(ii) The cutting or clearing of the forest is conducted so as to minimize the loss of forest;
So my question now is - what (if any) possible "loopholes" in the Forest Conservation Law would potentially apply to this ZTA and future solar projects in the Ag Reserve? (Also, note the phrase "minimize the loss of forest" in this section of the law is rather subjective.)
These fundamental questions left unanswered about forest protections, in addition to the fact that many Reserve residents that would host or live adjacent to these arrays are unable to participate in the new civic engagement by video conference landscape because of spotty broadband, add to the need for careful and deliberate action on this important and controversial issue. Renewable energy is part of the solution to our climate crisis but only if it is part of a holistic approach that preserves natural systems. Please take two minutes to write the Council.
In an area set aside for Agriculture (the Ag Reserve), this ZTA only protects areas in red from being taken out of farming for commercial solar generation. Solar generation yes, at the expense of growing food in the only area of the county set aside for it, no.
After three sessions in committee, ZTA 20-01 that would allow commercial solar on up to 3 square miles of the Agricultural Reserve with scant protections for productive soils, water quality and forests - is headed to the Council. The ZTA markup voted out of committee can be found here.
Council Legislative staffer Jeffrey Zyontz says that the full council will likely take this up by the end of September or early October. Members of the agricultural community and residents of the Agricultural Reserve who are not served by broadband (see:
Lack of Broadband Leaves Reserve Communities Behind in the Pandemic) and have limited cellular service have asked that this controversial matter be held until the public can participate meaningfully after the pandemic is more under control.
Your voice matters... the Council needs to hear from you on this issue, take two minutes to send them a letter now.
Concerns with this significant zoning change are broadly held and have not been properly addressed by council members or staff.
Full Background on this issue is here.
Answering specific FAQs on this controversial issue:
-I support renewable energy, can you just give me the 2 minute synopsis on why this is such a big problem?
Yes, MCA does too. It is a matter of location and protections for the stated use of these lands - agriculture and open space protection. 2 minute synopsis right here.
- Why are local environmental groups divided on commercial Solar in the Ag Reserve?
-What are the protections in this ZTA for productive farm soils? (almost none)
-What are the established best practices on how a local government should handle siting of solar? Chesapeake Conservancy has a guide for Baltimore City + County.
-What do you mean by no protections for water quality?
The ZTA as approved by committee allows these arrays on up to 15% grades - a steep hill. Crops would not be planted on these grades under sediment management plans normally, disturbing the soil for mis-named "solar farms" would also result in sedimentation of streams and ultimately the Potomac. The Planning Department's own staff said that the siting of these arrays will protect "most of the wetlands" in rural areas (emphasis ours).
Recent flood damage at Little Seneca Lake... regional backup drinking water supply for 4.3 million in our region.
Precipitation patterns have changed, bringing increasingly high volume and velocity rain events.
MCA has joined with Friends of Ten Mile Creek and partners to ask the County to embark in a more proactive water quality protection plan, including parkland acquisition, closing developer advantaged loopholes, and reforestation (like our Re-Leaf the Reserve Program).
There is currently a property proposed for development adjacent to parkland that drains into the Reservoir, called Linthicum West. MCA has joined with Friends of Ten Mile Creek and others to request that this property be considered for parkland acquisition to protect the Reservoir. Read the letter to parks department here with excerpts below.
We ask the Montgomery County Department of Parks to consider acquiring the 165.25-acre property at the southwest corner of Clarksburg Road and West Old Baltimore Road, known as Linthicum West, and we request a meeting to discuss this idea.
On March 31, 2005, the Montgomery Planning Board approved a preliminary plan application (accepted 7/2/2004) for this property. Now, in August 2020, the property owner is preparing to submit the site plan application for 253 residential units and a proposed 90 acres of parkland dedication.
This property abuts existing parkland and drains into Cabin Branch and Little Seneca Reservoir. We do not believe that the proposed development would be in the public interest. Rather, we believe that it would be better for the water quality and health of Little Seneca Reservoir for the property to be acquired and stewarded as parkland. We stand ready to help identify ways to fund this land acquisition.
Weather and climate models show drastically increased rainfall in the coming decades. Water runs downhill -faster over paved surfaces, picking up debris as it goes and slower over forests, filtering through layers of soil. To handle more rain, we need to really consider the land use patterns surrounding our drinking water sources. Stay tuned as we push for the acquisition of this land.
The 2 minute story of Commercial Scale Solar proposed in the Ag Reserve (ZTA 20-01):
-Around 3 square miles of commercial scale solar is proposed for Montgomery County's Ag Reserve under ZTA 20-01, first proposed in January 2020. The ZTA will have a vote in September at the full County Council.
-Despite many hundreds of letters of concern since January from both up and downcounty, this ZTA still has scant/toothless protection for water quality, forests, and notably productive soils - this in the only part of the County set aside for Agriculture. Reserve farms are mostly on productive soil classes 2 and 3 - there are no protections for these soils in this ZTA (map and table of who farms what soil here). In fact the architect of this ZTA, Councilmember Hans Riemer really showed his retisence to protect agriculture in the Ag Reserve when he said the difference between soil types allowed for siting commercial arrays was akin to roof color, asking "Why would we limit solar to only blue roofs?"
This lack of understanding is the reason the council committee voted to only protect the soils in red (class 1), which through productive, are all riparian buffers or on islands in the Potomac, not farmable.
-Missing from this discussion is what a commercial non-ag use will do to current and future farmers, many of whom lease their land - including every farmer seeking land through our Land Link program. Solar arrays pay more per acre to the landowner but this land was set aside for one purpose...agriculture and solar arrays take land out of farming.
-Though we all want to see the county embrace renewable energy, there is disagreement about this flawed ZTA among local environmental groups. Here are the misconceptions supporters of this ZTA have - notably that arrays would have to be part of the Maryland Community Solar Portfolio meant to be accessible to low income people- false. Without clear stipulation that these commercial facilities will be part of the community solar initiative, energy generated will simply flow to the regional grid providing neither affordable energy for local consumers nor satisfying Montgomery County’s mandate for carbon neutral by 2035.
Before the Council votes on this ZTA next month, they need to hear from you, or hear from you again. Please take 2 minutes to take action - and thank you!
Update: July 2020:
It seems that despite the pandemic, the council will be taking up this ZTA allowing siting industrial solar arrays in the Ag Reserve with no protections for productive soils or forests. The findings of the county's climate working group are clear as the Working Group Chair (reiterated in an email here to the Council here and again by MCA and also by Reserve Architect Dr. Royce Hanson. ) - the Ag Reserve is not the place for industrial solar. (The Maryland Farm Bureau agrees)
An Electrical Systems Engineer Expert Weighs In "You can't change the laws of Physics....ZTA 20-01 is not the answer."
The pandemic makes it very difficult for people to properly participate in the public process (particularly in the Ag Reserve where broadband is not universal) but it has put a fine point on the critical value of local farms and local food. Our Land Link program has connected new and expanding farmers with over 500+ acres of leased land. Non-Ag uses like industrial solar make land leases, the lifeblood of farm ventures large and small in MoCo, much less likely to happen with severe impacts on next generation table crop producers - particularly those from under represented backgrounds. Multi generation ag producers are also opposed to this ZTA.
Click Read More on below for all the background on this issue.
The first committee hearing on this issue was on July 9, read our wrap up here. The second was on July 16 and is wrapped up here. The final committee hearing was on 7/22 and the ZTA - still lacking soil/forest/water protections is headed to the full council in September.
As civically engaged, community minded folks, MCA's supporters hear from a lot of different environmental groups. The same is true of county councilmembers and their staff. The question has come - "But why are you and Sierra Club/CCAN in disagreement about solar in the Ag Reserve?"
The answer involves some misunderstanding on the part of our fellow civic groups. While we all want renewable energy and climate solutions, this ZTA is not the way to get there as it lacks protections for the very things that environmental groups usually agree need protecting.
Case in point, this recent jubilant email from CCAN asking supporters to celebrate the "compromise" ZTA that came out of committee ready for debate at the full Council in September. CCAN email in italics, our clearing up of misstatements in below.
Subject: Good news: MoCo compromise permits solar and farming side by side
...."Which is why I am pleased members of the Montgomery County Council reached an excellent compromise last week to allow solar power and farming to co-exist in our county’s northern region. After much debate and the sharing of data on all sides, the Councilmembers came together and voted 4-1 for a path forward. "
MCA: There is in fact no stipulation for the co-location of agriculture in this bill. As numerous local farmers have testified, the idea that you can grow food/pollinator plants in the drought and shade of a solar array is rather ridiculous. This is not a compromise as no protections for water quality, forests or meaningful soil protections were passed. Be clear - the ZTA has been discussed in Council committees, not voted on by full council.
"That path, as part of a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA), excludes solar power on “Class 1” soils that are best used for growing crops. That is reasonable. The resolution DOES permit a limited amount of solar only on lesser quality soils -- i.e. “Class 2” or higher. So the final result would be no more than 1800 acres of solar panels -- less than two percent of the County’s agricultural reserve -- and ONLY on sub-Class 1 soils. "
MCA: Class 1 soils constitute very few of the Reserve’s acres and are located in riparian buffers, along the Potomac or streams and on islands in the Potomac. These acres are not suitable for farming. As the map below illustrates the Red parts are class 1- very little. Soils of class 1,2 and 3 are all considered productive soils by the Office of Agriculture and most food and fiber of the Reserve is grown on class 2 and 3 (orange and peach colors respectively.) (see the table of which farms grow on which soils here.) The green of the map is Ag Reserve land with soil classes higher than 3, i.e less than productive soils. It stands to reason that in an area set aside for agriculture, siting a commercial use on productive soils is to be avoided. At minimum, unproductive soils should be the only option for this industrial and commercial use. Those productive soils need to grow the next generation of local food producers.
Additionally, it has become clear in committee hearings that the backers of this ZTA are looking for far more than this first 1800 acres for solar located on productive farmland. Despite the holistic approach of the report from the County's own climate change working group, ZTA architect Councilmember Riemer seems to be putting all his chips on field mounted solar to achieve the renewable/energy reduction portfolio we need to get to the County's climate goals.
The “ZTA 20-01” resolution will now go to the full Council for a final vote in September. We at CCAN Action Fund -- and our many partners throughout the county -- support a favorable vote from the Council with no weakening amendments.
County government leaders have made it clear that we cannot meet our County’s ambitious climate-emergency goals without allowing a limited amount of solar to co-exist with agriculture. We now have a compromise that gets us there.
MCA: "Weakening" amendments is a misnomer. Under this ZTA, arrays will still be allowed on slopes of up to 15%, causing serious runoff and subsequent water quality issues. When asked about wetlands at the committee hearing, planning board staff said the ZTA "should protect most wetlands." Most wetlands?! The ZTA may be amended to address no specific forest protection for forests to "forest loss should be minimized." Clearly more protective amendments are needed to avoid harm to existing natural systems.
And one of the best features of the ZTA is that it allows only “community solar” power to be placed on Class 2 soils. This means the electricity will include offerings to low-to-moderate income Montgomery residents -- up to 54,000 homes -- who might otherwise be unable to power their homes with affordable, clean power. During the COVID-19 recession and climate crisis, this is a win, win, win.
MCA: There is still no stipulation in the ZTA that the energy created will be part of the Community Solar portfolio as defined by Maryland and it is frankly upsetting that the very real energy needs of low income people are being used as a selling point for this flawed ZTA. Without clear stipulation that these commercial facilities will be part of the community solar initiative, energy generated will simply flow to regional grid providing neither affordable energy for local consumers nor satisfying Montgomery County’s mandate for carbon neutral by 2035.
And so, MCA, with our supporters and partners, climate change aware and proactive throughout our County, are fully in favor of meeting our climate emergency with decisive action but regard this proposal as producing more harm than good. Best efforts to discuss these concerns with local groups pushing this ZTA have not been fruitful. But we do have solutions - the report of the County's own Climate Change Task Force is ready for implementation. Among the recommendations are projects that MCA has already embarked on, including reforestation along stream buffers and wider adoption of regenerative agriculture.
The ZTA will be moving to the full council in September, we will be asking you to once again arise your voice for a policy that truly does promote renewable energy, natural systems and the 40 year old promise of the Agricultural Reserve.
Local Food Connection
Community Supported Agriculture
Restaurants & Retail
Artists of the Reserve
Montgomery Countryside Alliance
P.O Box 24, Poolesville, MD 20837
301-461-9831 • firstname.lastname@example.org
MCA is proud to announce that we have been recognized for a third time as one of the best small charities in the D.C. region by Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington. A panel of 110 expert reviewers from area foundations, corporate giving programs, and peer non-profit organizations evaluated 270 applications.
MCA is known as an effective and innovative non-profit whose efforts to preserve and promote Montgomery County’s nationally recognized 93,000 acre Ag Reserve have brought increased public and governmental support of local food production and farmland and open space preservation. Most importantly, MCA’s efforts are putting more farmers on the ground and keeping them there.