When the Frederick County Council passed a bill in May 2017 creating a zone to allow solar arrays, we had high hopes for a bright future generating solar power here.
But it has not come to pass.
When the council recently rejected a proposal for a $17.2 million solar energy site about 150 acres of agricultural land because it did not comply with the earlier ordinance, it became clear that the law needed to change.
The 2017 ordinance provides for a “floating zone” where solar arrays will be allowed. The restrictions include:
- The project cannot exceed 10 percent of the farm’s tillable acreage, or 75 acres.
- It cannot sit on prime farm soils.
- It cannot be in a priority preservation area or rural legacy area.
- It cannot be contiguous to growth areas identified in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.
At the time of the approval, we praised the bill as a first step toward a cleaner energy future for our community and for the country. But it is now clear that the law is too restrictive.
We therefore applaud council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer’s move to create a work group to begin updating and improving the zoning ordinance. She shows real vision in taking this step.
She has rightfully invited the Frederick County Farm Bureau as well as solar array companies to participate, and she should expand it to include scientists and engineers from the field of solar power study to participate as well.
The world of solar power is advancing by leaps and bounds, fueled by research and development dollars. It is the primary hope for a clean energy future, needed to address the most important challenge threatening us — man-made climate change. The widespread burning of fossil fuels to power our vehicles and to generate electricity must come to an end.
Yogi Goswami, director of the Clean Energy Research Center at the University of South Florida, recently wrote on the website Quora:
“Solar energy is such a vast energy resource that it can be used for any of our everyday needs, including electrical power, heating and cooling, water heating, industrial process heat, cooking, transportation, fuel production and even environmental clean-up.
“It comes to us as radiation which is pure energy (no mass associated with it), which is the highest form of energy and can be converted to many other forms for our everyday use.
“A tiny fraction of the solar energy that falls on the earth is sufficient to take care of all of the needs on the earth.”
The challenge is to capture and store the energy for the hours when the sun is not shining. And Goswami wrote that scientists are making giant strides.
So, for Frederick County, where we have a reasonable number of sunny days, solar power must be an important part of our future.
This puts pressure on local elected officials to move toward a set of local laws that will allow for reasonable, economically viable solar power arrays.
Agriculture has been and hopefully will remain an important sector of the Frederick County economy. We support county efforts to protect and encourage agriculture.
But solar power is an important part of our future, and local leaders like Keegan-Ayer must be supported in their efforts to make certain that the county is welcoming for this nascent industry.
Agriculture and solar companies can co-exist in Frederick County. Now we need to set the terms of this future.