Hurdles to Solar in the AR: "The Montgomery County Planning Department is hearing from potential solar project applicants that utility approval is one of the largest hurdles to effectively implementing community solar in the county. Cooperation with the power distribution companies and the ability to connect to the grid are the two primary drivers for not receiving timely approvals and construction of approved projects. Planning staff have been told there are issues with responsiveness, communication, and overall desire to implement additional solar from utility companies in general."
"Grid interconnection is the other major obstacle impacting utility approvals in the county. The local power circuits need to have the available capacity to absorb new electric generation and, in many areas, that capacity does not exist"
"Montgomery Planning believes these hurdles that delay or deny utility approvals represent the largest obstacle to implementing our collective solar goals, and zoning and land use regulation may likely have little if any ability to remedy these issues."
"Montgomery County takes its responsibility to contribute to the state’s solar goals seriously and will continue to aggressively strive to assist the state in meeting our collective renewable energy goals by promoting solar projects on up to 1,800 acres, which equates to approximately 2% of all land in the county’s precious Agricultural Reserve.
The standards and process for solar facilities in the AR Zone Impact Report of Montgomery County Solar Collection Systems in the AR Zone 12 and other zones reflect that commitment, while preserving agriculture as the primary use in the Agricultural Reserve. As stated previously, Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve is a prized and valuable resource. It is a significant economic driver in terms of commodity farming, food systems, and agritourism, and provides opportunities for diverse communities to access and remain in farming."
Since that time, a number of solar installations in the Reserve have been approved through the county's conditional use process, many others that would meet county approval standards are waitlisted as large scale utilities work through capacity issues - a roadblock outside the county's purview.
The situation is the same in other counties. Because local governments are charged with the protection of local resources many counties have put similar regulations into place to balance twin goals - renewable energy and farmland, forest and water protection.
However, this Fall the Public Service Commission -Maryland's regulatory body for utilities including energy and transportation - is considering preempting carefully crafted County policies and processes to approve large scale solar arrays where the state deems necessary.
So far the PSC has held a comment period as they consider how to move forward. The new Montgomery planning director, Jason Sartori, submitted comments that succinctly explain the approval process in MoCo and the detriment to the County's 40 year commitment to the Ag Reserve that would come from bypassing the current reasonable process.
Stay tuned for more on this evolving issue.
- Webinars for going solar for farms, homes and businesses from MCA, the Office of Ag and the County Green Bank
- "Solar will be sited with care in the Reserve" Background on the ZTA that passed in early 2021