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Carroll County commissioners hear public testimony on community solar amendment

Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners heard public testimony Thursday to amend the zoning code to allow community solar energy generating systems in certain areas within the Agricultural Zoning District.

After hearing the Thursday morning testimony and an update from Brenda Dinne, special projects coordinator with the Department of Land & Resource Management, commissioners unanimously voted in favor of closing the public hearing and leaving the record open for 10 days.

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Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, spoke in support of the zoning amendment after the public hearing.

“Hopefully this is the first step in community solar, we’ll see how it works,” Frazier said. “Let’s let this play out for a year and we can reevaluate it next year. We will still have time if we want to put it on other ag property if it went that way.”

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According to the Carroll County Government website, a community solar facility allows a property owner to use solar energy as a power source without installing or constructing a facility on site. In exchange for a monthly subscription fee, individuals receive a credit or reduction in their electric bill.

In 2015 the state adopted the Community Solar Pilot Program which is set to end in 2024, at which point no additional community solar facilities can apply to the public service commission.

Community solar facilities would be a principal permitted use on 5 acres or greater in the agricultural zoning district for a maximum size of 20 acres and only on existing remaining portions as of July 1, 2020.

Three years later the Board asked the Environmental Advisory Council to prepare a report on how community solar energy generation systems could work within the county’s current zoning framework.

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In the spring of 2020 commissioners directed EAC staff to develop a proposal for a zoning text amendment to allow community solar on remaining portions in the agriculture district. A few months later after briefing the board, commissioners asked for public input.

Now with the zoning text in front of commissioners and the public, the county was able to hear Thursday what residents and solar stakeholders thought.

A farmer from outside Taneytown was the first to testify. Because his farm was not a preapproved property parcel, he asked for his property to be added to the list so he could be part of the solar community in Carroll.

“We’re very interested in hosting a solar project on our farm,” he said. “For us, it would be a perfect fit.”

Jake Springer, a senior policy associate at Nexamp also testified during the hearing. Nexamp is a developer and operator of community solar projects in Maryland.

“We feel strongly that community solar is a great opportunity for the county to bring a lot of value to the communities here,” Springer said.

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