Carroll Report Commissioners Maryland

Commissioners On Path To Protect Agriculture From Commercial Solar; Preserving Quarter-Billion Dollar Ag Investment

Critics claim decision sets county behind in green revolution, but may be surprised by where Carroll County actually stands.

Last month, Carroll County commissioners voted 4 to 1 to protect agriculturally zoned land from commercial solar development, with Rothstein the lone dissenting vote.

The vote, which directed the Department of Planning and Zoning to provide recommended adjustments to zoning regulations, is now to be scheduled for public comment and brings the four commissioners one step closer to preserving Carroll County’s nearly quarter-billion dollar investment in agricultural preservation.  

From the onset, Commissioners Vigliotti, Kiler, Gordon and Guerin voiced support for solar development but felt it should not be built on agricultural land.

“The whole concept of allowing solar development on agriculturally zoned land is really a fundamental kind of transformation for our county,” said Vigliotti.

“I’m hard pressed to believe that solar belongs on ag anyplace,” Kiler said. “I’ll be straight up; it’s going to very hard to convince me that solar belongs on ag.”

Commissioner Gordon agreed.  “I’m not really comfortable with the idea of it being utilized for other things, when realistically, if we’re actually investing in Carroll to be ag-related, to take away from that to me seems totally counterintuitive.”

Commissioner Mike Guerin echoed the sentiment.  “I know it sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but I’m not opposed to community solar either,” he said. “But on ag land, I become increasingly concerned about the directions we’re going in on that particular zoning.”

The move by the four commissioners was celebrated online by many who argued that allowing commercial solar facilities on farm land could fundamentally change the county’s landscape.

“Why are we covering good farmland with solar panels? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put them on buildings or on land that isn’t suitable to be farmed. These solar companies are coming in offering big money to lease your land for solar. Wait until we come up with something better than big solar panels and they leave your land covered in worthless junk and your left hung out to dry.”

Maryland’s Push for Solar

Across Maryland, as clean energy advocates and the solar industry work to meet the state’s ambitious mandate of having at least 14.5 percent of the state’s energy produced by solar power by 2030, counties are battling what they see as an infringement of their longstanding control over land use and zoning. [Source]

Governor Wes Moore recently signed into law House Bill 908, comprehensive legislation that requires “community solar farms” to provide a set percentage of their energy to low-to-medium income households at discounted rates in exchange for personal property tax exemptions.  

While the state of Maryland continues their informal push for solar, Informed Carroll was unable to identify any laws which legally forced local jurisdictions like Carroll County to adopt commercial solar.

Carroll County….a leader in solar energy?

Some residents were displeased with the vote, claiming that the move puts Carroll County behind the green energy movement.

“That’s stupid and narrow-minded. Someone is preserving their own interests. It is not the best decision for our Community.  We should be embracing technology. The weather is getting more radical every season. It’s ridiculous. The Inflation Act has given all kinds of benefits that make solar more attractive and beneficial.”

But they may be surprised to learn how far ahead Carroll County actually is.

Carroll County is home to the largest rooftop community solar project in the United States.  The Hampstead facility powers more than 1,300 residential and small commercial subscribers.  

Carroll is also ranked 10th among Maryland counties for solar installations according to a 2021 source.

With Carroll’s position in both agriculture and solar energy as #1 and #10 in the state respectively, it shows that the county is able to balance the priorities of local agriculture while still being able to successfully participate in green energy production. 

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