Baltimore County councilman withdraws bill to halt rural solar projects

Freeland, Md. resident Gary Atkinson wants a company to install a temporary solar farm to about twenty percent of his land at the Mason-Dixon Line. Some residents and at least one Baltimore Co. councilman have pushed back about the proposal to the property, in his family's possession since the 1800s.  (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun video)

A Baltimore County councilman on Tuesday withdrew his bill that would have suspended the development of commercial solar facilities in rural areas.

Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican who represents the north county, said he did not have support on the seven-member council to pass the legislation.


The councilman wanted to impose a nine-month moratorium on solar projects on rural land, saying the county should study issues such as the impact on farmland and home values. But other members said it would be unfair to stop solar projects that already were approved.

“They didn’t like putting the projects on hold because, in essence, it was costing money to the developers,” Kach said after the council meeting Tuesday night, when members were scheduled to vote on his bill.

A statewide pilot program has encouraged the development of “community solar,” which aims to make solar power accessible to people who can’t install panels on their roofs. Many of the facilities proposed for Baltimore County are in Kach’s district, and community groups are opposing them.

The County Council approved legislation in 2017 regulating solar development. That bill allowed solar projects on farmland. The county planning board later issued recommendations saying the facilities should not be placed on productive farmland, and should instead be directed toward business and manufacturing areas.

The Baltimore County Council passed rules in 2017 to govern commercial solar projects, and since then developers have proposed about 20. But now community groups are challenging many of them, saying farmland isn’t the right place for commercial solar development.

A large crowd attended a council work session last week to discuss the bill. Supporters of the moratorium argued the county should steer large commercial solar facilities to industrial and business zones, rather than farms. Advocates for solar energy said current regulations are sufficient to protect farms.

After Kach withdrew his measure, Lynne Jones of the Sparks-Glencoe Community Planning Council, which supported a moratorium, expressed disappointment that the bill didn’t have support.

“I’m surprised that the council people didn’t really want to consider having a study,” she said after the meeting Tuesday. “There are so many unknowns about this. … I really think this is doing a huge disservice to the farm community, because this is taking farmland out of food production.”

The moratorium would have applied to projects that already received county approvals. Several council members said they opposed making the bill retroactive because they felt it would unfairly penalize solar companies that proceeded under current regulations.

“I believe that when people come to Baltimore County to do business, no matter what that business is, they want certainty before they make any type of investment,” Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, said at the meeting last week.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said he wants the council to consider involving the county’s Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Board in the development process for solar projects.

“I think that’s a missing part of the steps as we evaluate solar facilities,” Marks said. “It would allow farmers to review where these panels are placed on properties. It [would give] farmers a voice in the development process.”