Frederick County has decided to appeal a decision by the Maryland Public Service Commission that would allow a controversial solar array project to be built near Walkersville.
We support the widespread use of solar power to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and the resultant contribution to climate change. But we agree that the case should be appealed.
The county is right to insist that local officials should have a voice in land use decisions when they are protecting important policies such as the preservation of prime agricultural land.
This case has been under consideration for several years now by the Public Service Commission, the administrative agency that regulates public utilities statewide.
In August, Public Utility Law Judge Ryan McLean ruled that Biggs Ford Solar LLC, should be permitted to construct the array on roughly 100 acres of farmland on Biggs Ford Road. He ordered that a certificate of public convenience and necessity should be issued.
Now, Wendy Kearney, a senior assistant county attorney, has filed a notice of appeal with the commission. She said in an email to News-Post reporter Steve Bohnel that the county is working on the memorandum of appeal.
According to the Code of Maryland Regulations, the county must explain in that memo why the certificate should not be issued. Biggs Ford Solar LLC would then have 20 days to file a response, said Tori Leonard, communications director of the PSC.
“Although the Commission could order any further proceedings it deems necessary, typically, there are no additional hearings; the Commission will review the record in the case and make a decision (there is no specified timeline for doing so),” Leonard wrote in an email to our reporter.
The case presents two very important and conflicting issues. The General Assembly has set out renewable energy goals and the commission is trying to make decision to meet those goals.
At the same time, local governments should have wide authority in local zoning and land use matters. Both the Frederick County Council and the county’s Planning Commission voted against rezoning the land to allow the array.
Many residents who live near the site as well as local elected leaders have opposed the solar array. It has been criticized as an eyesore and on the grounds that the county’s prime farmland needs to be preserved.
The first complaint might be real, but it holds no merit. If our country is ever to address climate change, we need to find ways to generate energy without burning fossil fuels. Solar power is a vital, irreplaceable component of that program.
As in the case of power-generating windmills in open fields and along mountain ridges, we need to get used to seeing large solar arrays as necessary. Saving our planet requires us to adapt to and accept the new reality that our rural vistas are going to be changing.
However, finding the proper sites for both wind and solar generating stations is also important and, and the preservation of the best farmland is an important public policy goal.
Local officials must have a voice in the decision over siting, not in the sense of being NIMBYs (as in Not in My Backyard), but in the reasonable and rational consideration of the best land use to meet all of our public policy goals.
Ultimately, the state’s highest court should provide guidance on how that discussion should take place. The county’s appeal can give the courts the vehicle through which those rules of engagement can be established.