Howard County Council Votes Down CB55-2019, Passes CR133-2019

On Monday November 4th, the Howard County Council voted down CB55-2019, a bill that would’ve put a moratorium on agricultural preserve parcel solar installations until a county task force could make recommendations on rules for siting ground mount arrays on these parcels moving forward. If passed, it would have put a dampening effect on solar growth in the county.

Many of the residents who testified at the bill’s public hearing on October 21st were against the bill: climate activists, solar industry representatives, environmentally-conscious citizens, and yes- ag preserve land owners. Several farmers that have signed on to lease an allowable portion of their land to solar projects said that this income will allow them to keep their farm, which may otherwise be economically unfeasible.

[A 2016 bill sponsored by then-Council member Calvin Ball allowed commercial solar facilities on ag preserve land given that it would be a secondary conditional use (there are over a dozen other allowed secondary uses, solar was just added to the list).]

After hearing the testimony from the public and discussing CB55-2019 at length in the work session, it was voted down by every member of the council except the bill’s sponsor, Council member Yungmann of District 5.

What happened to the accompanying resolution, though, is very interesting.  The resolution, CR133-2019, called for the establishment of the task force referenced in the bill, the only goal of which was to evaluate & discuss new rules for ag preserve solar siting.  But what Council members Jones, Rigby, Walsh and Jung decided to do was take points made during the public testimony and incorporate them into the directives for the task force. 

Originally, the task force was going to be seven members with a fairly limited scope.  But at the November 4th vote, the resolution was amended to include the following:

  1. The Howard County Environmental & Sustainability Board would facilitate this Commercial Solar Facilities Task Force
  2. Seven more members were added to the task force:
    • One representative who represents residents who benefit from community solar, selected by Maryland SUN (Solar United Neighbors)
    • Two representatives from the county’s Environmental Sustainability Board
    • Two representatives from the county’s Office of Community Sustainability (selected by the Office Administrator)
    • Two representatives from the county’s Department of Planning & Zoning
  3. The scope of the task force was expanded as well adding:
    • Exploring methods & strategies for integrating commercial solar facility siting with agricultural practices and pollinator habitat planting.  There has been a lot of buzz lately (no pun intended) with the new practice of ‘agrivoltaics,’ agricultural methods used under photovoltaic arrays, as well as the success of pollinator habitat flourish when grown under arrays.
    • Explore potential county incentives for carport, ground mount and rooftop commercial array installations
    • Make recommendations for updates to the current zoning regulations to “encourage more high-quality solar projects across the County.”

These additions to the resolution open up a larger opportunity for solar to expand and thrive in Howard County, while coexisting with already-established rules and land uses.

Maryland farm solar array experienced local installer Aurora Energy Inc.
Aurora Energy installed this ground mount solar system on a farm in 2019.

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