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Carroll County News

Solar facility ordinance changed after farming concerns arise

Would Carroll County farmers replace their crops with solar panels if they were allowed to do so? That's what the county is looking into before a proposed ordinance allowing solar conversion facilities throughout Carroll is approved.

Staff with the Carroll County Department of Land Use, Planning and Development developed an ordinance that set regulations for small- and large-scale solar conversion facilities. The ordinance places size, height and location restrictions on solar conversion facilities in Carroll.

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The original ordinance allowed ground- and roof-mounted large-scale facilities to be permitted in the agricultural, general business, restricted industrial and general industrial zoning districts and, in certain instances, the neighborhood retail business zoning district.

A large-scale solar conversion facility is one that has solar panels installed on a property for the sole purpose of generating electricity and selling it back to the electrical grid for profit.

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But, the county's agriculture community expressed concern about allowing large-scale facilities on farming land, so the county has taken agricultural zoning districts out of the ordinance. The fear is that farmers would stop planting crops and instead cover their land with solar panels, according to Phil Hager, director of the county's Department of Land Use, Planning and Development.

"There were those that had concerns that they weren't sure what the legislation would mean so they wanted more time to study it," Hager said. "Another concern was that these types of uses would, conceivably, compete with traditional agricultural to such an extent that they actually threaten agriculture."

Since the county did not know the full impact of allowing large-scale facilities in the agricultural zoning district, Hager said it was removed from the proposed ordinance. The ordinance allowing small- and large-scale facilities in the aforementioned zoning districts will be sent to public hearing.

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Hager said the county is forming a committee to look into what effects, if any, allowing large-scale facilities in the agricultural zoning district would have on local farming and the county's rural nature.

"We want to make sure everybody's had enough time to study the idea and understand what it is that would be recommended," Hager said. "There is no rush that is so critical that we have to do something now in the agricultural zone when agriculture is such an important activity within the county."

The Maryland Farm Bureau is planning on developing a policy on "solar farming" amid recent state legislation regarding building large-scale facilities on agricultural land, said Matthew Teffeau, the organization's assistant government relations director.

Members of the Maryland General Assembly introduced 28 bills relating to solar energy in the 2014 legislative session. Several pieces of legislation introduced this year directly related to rules allowing solar conversion facilities to be built on agricultural land.

"It's something that we're researching and looking into and developing a policy," Teffeau said. "At the end of the day, if a farmer wants to put solar panels on his farm to generate power then that's great. But there's also concern about taking prime, productive ag land out of commission."

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The Maryland Farm Bureau will be discussing the use of "solar farms" on agricultural land at its convention in December.

Reach staff writer Christian Alexandersen at 410-857-7873 or christian.alexandersen@carrollcountytimes.com.


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