What is community solar? The Maryland Public Service Commission established regulations so that companies can build large solar installations to which members of the public can subscribe, purchasing a share of the electricity produced by the installation. Subscribers receive a credit on their BGE bill if the solar installation produces electricity. This program allows access to solar-generated electricity credits for renters or homeowners who are unable to install rooftop or ground-mounted solar.
Agricultural land is cheap and already cleared, so as soon as Baltimore County Council passed a bill permitting large solar installations by special exception, many companies submitted applications to erect community solar installations. A few weeks ago, the Board of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of an installation at 1139 Monkton Road, the first of more than a dozen proposed projects in Councilmanic District 3 to receive a favorable decision.
Unless the decision is appealed, the project will move forward and is scheduled to be completed before the end of 2019. The Manor Conservancy supports generating electricity through solar panels installed on brownfields, rooftops, and over parking lots. Prime and productive agricultural soils should be used to grow crops, not covered with solar panels. But it appears imminent that the first of many acres of agricultural land in District 3 will be covered with solar panels.
We have worked with many community groups to inform the public and the administrative law judge, who issues decisions about special exceptions, about the drawbacks and pitfalls of large solar installations on agricultural land. Several projects were reduced in size, and modifications were made to fencing and landscaping to reduce the visibility of the projects. Up to ten of these projects may be built in any one councilmanic district. We hope that if and when these projects are built, they can provide solar-generated electricity to the community at reduced rates as advertised, and we will continue working to encourage acceptable alternatives to solar on prime and productive soils.