Hearing on solar energy systems draws limited response

August 01, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |

WASHINGTON COUNTY — A public hearing on allowing large solar energy-generating systems in Washington County drew limited community response Monday.

County planning staff has proposed amending the county’s zoning ordinance to permit commercial solar energy- generating systems in select zones to meet rising demand for solar power from public and private interests.

The state of Maryland has set a goal of having 20 percent of the energy generated in the state from renewable resources by 2022, Senior Planner Jill Baker said.

“We’ve also still got interest, more interest, from other companies in Washington County, nothing firm yet, but there is definitely some interest,” she said.

Only three people addressed the proposed amendments during Monday’s hearing. The proposed amendments are currently under review by the planning commission.

“I think (these) people here today stand at the threshold of making a decision that could be very important to this community, and that decision would be not to limit the ability of people to have solar energy but to expand it at whatever cost it would take,” county resident James Devine said. “This is what the future holds.”

In the proposed amendments, the systems are defined as solar facilities “consisting of multiple solar arrays whose primary purpose is to generate electricity for distribution and/or sale into the public utility grid and not for onsite consumption,” according to county documents.

Baker said the county has proposed permitting the systems as a special exception in the following zones: agricultural rural, environmental conservation, preservation, rural village, rural business and industrial mineral, as well as in the airport zone.

Farmer Jerry Ditto of Clear Spring said he would “probably” be opposed to consuming agricultural land for solar energy-generating systems.

“I like Mr. Shaool’s comment about using commercial space,” he said. “Buildings with flat roofs and warehouses seem like an ideal place.”

Planning Commission member Sassan Shaool suggested also permitting the systems as special exceptions in industrial zones.

George Anikis of Fairplay opposed allowing the systems in the rural village zone.

“I am totally opposed to any conditions which would allow for a generating system within these 19th-century — for the most part — villages,” he said. “There is more than enough vacant industrial, commercial and agricultural land in this county to support an SEG (solar energy-generating system) without threatening our rural villages.”

He also advocated for stricter buffer requirements for any systems proposed adjacent to a rural village.  

The rural village zone is designed to prevent large amounts of inappropriately scaled development or uses that would detract from the historic or rural character of the villages, Anikis said.

Under the proposed amendments, solar energy-generating systems could only be built on lots of 20 acres and larger, the documents said.

Planning Commission member Clint Wiley asked Chief Senior Planner Stephen Goodrich to provide the planning commission with a count of how many available undeveloped lots, 20 acres or larger, are in the rural village zone.

Baker said the planning commission will discuss the proposed amendments again at its Aug. 29 meeting.

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