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Mayor: Union Bridge not in favor of solar project unless farm can be annexed to provide tax revenue

Mayor: Union Bridge not in favor of solar project unless farm can be annexed to provide tax revenue
The site layout for the proposed solar project in Union Bridge. - Original Credit: Photo by Akira Kyles (HANDOUT)

Union Bridge officials are not in favor of a proposed solar project that would fall just outside the town’s limits, but the decision on whether the project moves forward is in the hands of the Maryland Public Service Commission.

On Monday night, the PSC held a second public hearing in Union Bridge to discuss the solar project with local residents. The proposed project, brought forward by Boston-based company Citizens UB Solar, has been downsized, but still doesn’t meet the town’s standards, according to Union Bridge Mayor Perry Jones.

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Jones said the town is not in favor of the solar farm because it isn’t consistent with Union Bridge’s master plan. The solar project would be just outside the town’s limits, and Union Bridge officials don’t think it would be fair to them since they wouldn’t be able to reap tax revenue from it.

“You do what you call a comprehensive plan for your community and it is in our comprehensive plan to have areas outside the town that connect with town properties to annex to your community," said Jones. "So, when you have development or industrial development like that, it will be within your town limits, and then your town can also benefit from it with the tax base from the area. And that’s one reason why we would like to have annexed because of the potential tax base you’ll get from that industrial area.”

If the town annexes the project, then they would be able to reap the monetary benefits of the farm.

“We have to work with the property owner and they file a petition to annex. Then, you have a public hearing and then you get comments from the public and all whether they want you to annex it or don’t want you to, according to your state and your county comprehensive plan that all your areas around your municipalities, they have them zoned as either commercial, industrial or residential,” Jones said.

Union Bridge would be in favor for the solar farm if the town was to reap tax revenue from it, the mayor said.

Following the meeting, there was supposed to be an evidentiary hearing, a trial-type proceeding, scheduled for the next day but it was canceled at the request of the applicant, Citzens UB Solar, according to Tori Leonard, communications director for the Maryland Public Service Commission.

While Citizens UB Solar is the applicant in this case, the “decision-maker” is the Public Service Commission and the case has been delegated to the Commission’s Public Utility Law Judge Division, Leonard said via email. Jones said the decision about whether to go forward with the solar project is in the hands of the judge and the applicant.

There has been no decision yet made.

“There is no statutory deadline for the judge to make a decision in the case; the judge has asked for a status update on settlement talks from the parties by Sept. 10,” said Leonard via email.

With input from two hearings, the PSC still has other factors to consider before a decision can be made.

“The statute requires the Commission, among other things, to give ‘due consideration’ to the recommendations of local governments," Leonard said via email. "Each case is decided on its own merits after consideration of a number of other factors including the stability and reliability of the electric system, economics, aesthetics, historic sites, environmental factors, etc.”

The judge was happy with the response from the town of Union Bridge at Monday night’s meeting, according to Leonard.

“Judge McLean was certainly appreciative of those members of the community who attended and expressed interest in the proceeding. He noted that about 10 people attended,” Leonard said via email.

The residents of Union Bridge that couldn’t attend the meeting still could submit a comment on PSC’s website on Tuesday.

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“As is typical in these cases, the judge will eventually issue a decision on the application in what is known as a proposed order," Leonard said via email. "If the proposed order is not appealed by any of the parties, or if the Commission does not take further action on its own, after a certain number of days the proposed order would become a final order of the Commission.”

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