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Harford County Council passes legislation allowing community solar generation

The Harford County Council unanimously approved legislation that will allow community solar energy generating systems on select types of land in the county.

Though the legislation passed with every member of the council’s vote, work on the legislation is not over. The legislation does not allow the solar systems on land zoned for agriculture, but a work-group will be convened later to work out the details of allowing the systems on land zoned for farming.

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Councilman Robert Wagner said the bill did not permit the systems on agricultural land because there was much to consider in that classification. A work group will be convened to further amend the legislation to include agricultural zoning.

“There was a push to get this done, and I think the building blocks that we have got in this bill do address the concerns and what we wanted to get accomplished in providing some designation in Harford County for community solar projects,” he said.

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The solar systems will be permitted on most business and residential-zoned land and can generate up to two megawatts of energy. Previously, deputy director of planning and zoning David Culver said a two-megawatt system covers about eight to 10 acres of land and could supply power to about 800 homes — depending on siting, the type of system and the energy efficiency of homes powered.

The legislation, introduced at the request of County Executive Barry Glassman, passed with amendments that make the process for putting solar panels on a property more public than it was in the original legislation.

As the legislation was, solar projects would have been classified as special developments, which are usually approved in-house by the county. With the amendments, the projects will be considered special exceptions, which can make their way to the county council — sitting as the Board of Appeals — for a vote if a case is appealed.

Previously, Wagner said he saw benefits to using the solar systems as ways to temporarily preserve agricultural land, providing steady income to landowners who are debating what to do with their property and helping stave off development pressure.

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The systems would come with restrictions. No energy generating structures are permitted closer than 150 feet from a property line or closer than 200 feet from a dwelling, the bill states. Systems’ heights, too, would be regulated to 15 feet, and would require landscape buffering and fences at least 6 feet high. They must also be made of glare-mitigating material to avoid posing a glare hazard, according to the amendments, which may necessitate a glare hazard study.

Systems also cannot be placed on land conserved through easements and must avoid scenic viewsheds, the amendments state. Up to three of the systems may be built on one parcel or adjoining parcels of land.

In 2019, Maryland’s legislature mandated that 50% of the state’s electricity retail sales come from renewable energy sources by 2030, and 15% of that has to be solar power.

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