In 2017 when Maryland’s community solar program launched, it ushered in a new economic lifeline for the state. Community solar gave communities the choice to participate in the clean energy transition. It allowed farmers to lease their land and harvest the sun. And it created good jobs. Lots of them. Municipalities that are struggling to balance their budgets and sorely need tax revenue to maintain their infrastructure, schools, and parks.
But most importantly, community solar brought bill savings to anyone with a utility bill. It democratized solar and gave low wealth families and minority communities a chance to finally benefit from the clean energy transition. A transition that has largely left them behind to carry the bill.
Community solar also serves as a key component in the state’s ambitious Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard and Clean Energy Jobs Act, legislation that calls for 50% of Maryland’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 including 14.5% from solar.
So it’s a complete mystery why the Montgomery County Council decided to pull the emergency brake on community solar abruptly putting an end to all the momentum and all the benefits this program has provided.
On January 26th, the Council chose to remove an additional 70% of eligible land from being allowed to construct community solar facilities, under the already capped 1,800 acres allowed in the legislation. This vote effectively puts a de facto moratorium on solar development in Montgomery County.
The amendment prevented solar development on class II soils, which makes up the majority of the agricultural reserve in Montgomery County. By allowing this provision to move forward, it removed the opportunity for shovel ready projects to proceed and makes it virtually impossible for solar companies to find viable sites in the future to place solar facilities. The vote sends a clear message to the local solar industry letting them know they are no longer welcome in Montgomery County. A message that has already been heard loud and clear as evidenced by solar companies already announcing their departure from the state.
By putting a moratorium on solar development, Montgomery’s County Council has undermined all the hard work and investment taking place across the state - from our rural communities to our state capital - and put in jeopardy Maryland’s ability to achieve its renewable energy goals.
It is quite possible the Montgomery County Council had the best of intentions and did not realize their vote would be so harmful. Whatever the case, the Council must immediately re-evaluate its decision. They should bring all parties back to the table to find a sustainable path forward that results in a win-win for all stakeholders and keeps alive one of the county’s brightest programs.
It’s not too late. This can still be fixed. Solar development does not have to be an either/or proposition. We can conserve our most sensitive lands and usher in a clean energy revolution that benefits all Marylanders at the same time.
I sincerely hope that in the coming days, the Council will come to this realization and revise its vote. Our future depends on it.
Leslie Elder is the Mid-Atlantic regional director the the Coalition for Community solar access.