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?
"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.)