The handwriting is on the wall for Frederick County’s go-slow approach on solar power. Once it seemed like a good idea, but now it is apparent that it is just not going to work.

The County Council passed a fairly restrictive law in 2017, and we praised it then as a reasonable approach to a complicated issue. The county would encourage solar power businesses to start on a smaller scale. We had high hopes that companies would find a way to comply with the law while protecting agricultural land and the scenic views that are an important part of the tourism business here.

The council this past winter turned down a proposed $17.2 million project outside Walkersville because it did not comply with the local ordinance. More than anything, it was criticized as too large — 151 acres along Biggs Ford Road.

But a recent decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals — the state’s highest court — in a Washington County case shows that the ultimate authority on where to allow solar power arrays and how big they will be is not going to be the county government.

The court ruled that the Public Service Commission is the “ultimate decision-maker” concerning where solar companies can construct solar arrays anywhere statewide. That decision means the PSC will have the final say concerning the Biggs Ford Road project.

After the council rejected the proposal, council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer said she would create a work group to begin updating and improving the zoning ordinance. The council really needs to get moving on this.

The Walkersville project, which is called the Whitmore/Biggs Ford Solar Center, has asked the PSC to overrule the County Council and allow it to build the array. The PSC regulates gas, electric, telephone, water, and sewage disposal companies, and has jurisdiction over electricity and suppliers, and construction of generating stations statewide.

A public utility law judge has requested written testimony from the county, the Department of Natural Resources and others by Sept. 11. A public hearing will be held the week of Sept. 16, with rebuttal testimony from other parties due Sept. 27. Evidentiary hearings are scheduled for Oct. 8 and Oct. 10 in Baltimore.

When it looks like you are about to lose a case, the wisest course is usually to try to negotiate a settlement. County Executive Jan Gardner’s staff should meet with the solar array developer and see what kind of a deal can be reached, rather than wait for the PSC to rule.

The county should explore the outline of a deal that would allow the solar company to build while meeting some of the goals the county is seeking to achieve.

Solar is such an important component of our energy future. The recent discussions in the County Council on the language of the Livable Frederick master plan concerning climate change shows that this community has wide agreement on its reality, with the discussion limited to whether the plan should call it a crisis.

Allowing solar energy generation is one of the ways that local government can contribute to climate solutions.

Solar has become so adaptive to local situations, with creative new ways to building the arrays to minimize the impact on communities. Now is the time for the county to negotiate the best deal possible, while it still holds a few cards, rather than wait for the PSC to impose a solution that we might not like.

(29) comments

cleanrunoff

You guys do realize that once upon a time, gasoline was an unwanted byproduct of oil refining, no one knew what to do with it until some smart person figured out how to make it pay. Pity that same process does not apply to solar ...

KMRD1

Mc Keegan-Ayre needs to be replaced. She has flip flopped on so many matters since she was elected to the council years ago and now as president of the council it shows even more.

Craig Hicks

I like elected officials (and people in general) who are capable of changing their positions in response to new information.

timothygaydos

solar power another myth... let us allow the economy to decide the fate of it and then in turn our local and state governments will go from there...

matts853

What makes solar so mythological, Tim? Please explain.

timothygaydos

As more data is generated regarding solar power; it cannot match the output that is required that coal, oil, gas, etc... can provide without a substantial cost being incurred. Consumers do not want the extra costs passed onto them and that would be a major issue also with solar power. Environmentalists will continue to push their dreams onto others until the cost hits them.

cleanrunoff

Also- it's no coincidence that "solar" and "socialism" start with the same 2 letters. Free energy from the Sun? Nothing is free, and the Sun will soon take back what has been stolen from it in the name of "free" energy.

matts853

I didn’t ask you for more anecdotes to support your opinion, Tim. Show me the “more data”. But perhaps you’re right. Maybe it’s better to keep mining the earth to extract carbon reserves for energy production rather than take advantage of that enormous nuclear reactor in the sky. Brilliant!

shiftless88

Yet there are companies all over the world who are building solar farms and making money. It's almost like they are right and you are wrong, but of course you cannot be wrong.

glenkrc

Where are they building them, what government mandates/"incentives" are in place, what are the prevailing electricity rates, and how would their performance/economics change if installed in MD?

shiftless88

glen; get out a bit more. Aside from being on top of many houses there are solar farms all over the world. Here is some information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_of_photovoltaics

glenkrc

I get out a lot. I see rooftop systems in my neighborhood installed inefficiently, even facing NNE. That can't do much for their capacity factor. Remember the MSM array that cost $60 million, yet produces less than $1.5 million of electricity/year (wholesale). The financing of solar in MD continues to be a shell game - rely on Federal subsidies, State mandates, sweetheart PPAs, net metering and, lo and behold, you're suddenly economically competitive. Your link didn't change my view. All I see are areas that either: 1.) are much sunnier than we are; 2.) have electricity prices higher than ours; and/or 3.) have government subsidies in place. Note that in your link, "grid parity" does not take into account the subsidies given to solar.

shiftless88

Glen; timothy was describing a broad failure of solar but I am pointing out that there is no failure of solar.

shiftless88

glen; are somehow under the impression that coal and oil do not get subsidized?

glenkrc

shiftless - I've addressed the subsidies point on numerous occasions. I'm surprised that you don't seem to have known or recalled that. The key metric is the level of subsidy on a per-unit-energy basis. There, solar is astronomically higher. BTW, I've never said solar is a failure, just that it's still too expensive for MD and implementation of the current solar carve-out will be more intrusive, awkward, and expensive than folks realize. Recall that one of the selling points for increasing the solar carve-out in the recent RPS was that if the legislature delayed, the state would miss out on getting a quarter billion dollars in Federal subsidies. That should tell you something.

shiftless88

Sorry to burst your bubble, glen, but I do not keep a tab on all the commenters here and their positions on various subjects. As noted in my post above, I was responding to timothydados' post, not yours. He made the claim to which I responded.

DickD

Coal is way down in usage. What fossil fuel being used the most is natural gas. But that too has a limited time left.

MD1756

Time and again, people post about the costs of green energy saying they don't like the subsidies without acknowledging that fossil fuel usage is subsidized directly and indirectly.

For examples of the true cost of fossil fuel see: https://www.ucsusa.org/press/2017/study-finds-top-fossil-fuel-producers-emissions-responsible-much-half-global-surface

or see: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils

and if you don't like those links for indirect subsidies how about from the US Energy Information Association (part of DOE): https://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/

which shows fossil fuels do receive direct subsidies. The full report also shows that all direct subsidies for energy have been decreasing over time (see table 3 in the report). Additionally, the federal government has a significantly lower royalty rate compared to a number of states (e.g. federal royalty rate for oil and gas produced from federal lands is 12.5% whereas Texas has a rate of 25%). This amounts to a significant subsidy where it is estimated that taxpayers are losing out on more than $730 million in revenue every year. Let's not forget the natural gas line losses as evidenced in a recent WaPo article( see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/eastern-us-cities-spewing-more-methane-into-air-than-thought/2019/07/22/59ad9bd0-acc7-11e9-9411-a608f9d0c2d3_story.html?utm_term=.e5e5d76fdb7a).

It's time for fossil fuel producers and users to pay their true costs.

glenkrc

1756 - Thanks for the EIA link. That's the report I used last year in these threads to make the point (noted in my earlier post) that, on a per-unit-energy basis, solar is subsidized far more than fossil, nuclear, hydro, etc. As for your advocacy organization links: These remind me of the "studies" done over the years by the anti-nukes, who exaggerated the effects of radiation exposure, particularly at low levels. I say it's more than time that folks with rooftop solar arrays pay their true costs.

MD1756

glenkrc, the true cost for coal, oil and gas plants are much higher than what rate payers are charged. I'll pay the true costs when those using fossil fuel do. While we're at it, I say it is time parents pay the true costs of their children. I'm tired of being taxed more because I have no children to pay for the children's education (children which I don't have).

TomWheatley

Has anyone run the numbers to see if mid Maryland is a great location for solar or just a so-so location? It is not exactly sunny here as it is in Philadelphia (if one believes the show title at all). What happens to the crops that were growing and now covered up by solar panels? Which is more expensive: shipping electricity or food from several hundred miles away? I certainly do not want more housing here but we only have a certain amount of good farmland in the County and it seems pointless to cover it over with solar panels or aluminum siding.

gabrielshorn2013

TW, SOME crops may not be able to grow under the panels, but it is all in the construction. Many, many crops will thrive partially shaded under the panels, and many crops easily grow between the rows of panels. I posted that information here previously. Google it.

wran

So. why not build solar towers or solar skyscrapers? These things could be 10 or 20 stories high. Make them round or rectangular and have them rotate so a good many of the panels would be facing the sun all day. These things could be built so they would not occupy as much land area. Every neighborhood should have a solar tower.

wran

Flat solar panels likely to be obsolete in a few years. 3D tower panel might be coming. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzVHgiii9Sg

FrederickFan

This is a weird column. How does the county negotiate on its laws? What happens to fairness and would all projects be negotiated? Where is the concern that local zoning is being usurped? How would agriculture preservation areas be protected? Do you want hundreds of acres of solar in your backyard? This is what local zoning is all about - a level playing field and striking a balance of all interests.

gabrielshorn2013

If you dont want to see solar arrays FrederickFan, it's simple. You, and those that think like you should buy the property from them. Easy peasy. Nobody owes you a view of THEIR land.

shiftless88

I am perfectly fine with hundreds of acres of solar in my backyard. Have you ever walked through a solar farm? Green grass, wildlife, good stuff

glenkrc

How about 10s of square miles? That's what will be required to meet MD's solar carve-out mandate of 14.5%.

DickD

Better solar than more houses.

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