AmericanFarm.com

It’s mostly sunny in Kent County? (Editorial)

(June 6, 2017) It is known as the Energy Siting Bill.
HB 1350, passed in the most recent session of the Maryland General Assembly, gives great weight to local planning, zoning and ordinances when the Public Service Commission considers whether to issue what is called a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
The certificate is required prior to the construction and installation of new energy generation facilities, that is to say, these days, solar facilities.
HD 1350 was triggered by Kent County’s opposition to Apex’s 370-acre Mills Branch Solar project.
Apex sought to preempt local authority and asked the PSC for permission to build on prime farmland in violation of Kent County land use ordinances.
HB 1350 prohibits the PSC “from holding a public hearing on an application or issuing a certificate of public convenience and necessity if any unit of local government determines that an application is not consistent with the comprehensive plan.”
The Energy Siting bill may come into play again in another solar project application in Kent County.
A solar company named Urban Grid, headquartered in Stevensville, Md., is seeking permission to build a 55 megawatt solar installation on 446 acres on the outskirts of Chestertown on Morgnec Road.
The farm is owned by Fair Promise Family LTD, a business associated with the Fair Promise Stock Farm in Betterton.
According to records of the proposed project, the land to be covered by the solar panels — an estimated 255 acres — has been actively farmed for “several decades.”
The solar farm is being actively opposed by the governing bodies of both Chestertown and Kent County and by a citizen force mounted by the Kent County Conservation and Preservation Alliance.
The opponents point out that the property has been zoned with an eye to it becoming a future growth and expansion area for the town of Chestertown.
It is in that area that the Energy Siting Bill comes into play.
Urban Grid may be able to argue that it can duck the provisions of the bill since its application for the Morgnec Road project was submitted before HB 1350 became law.
However, the ruling in the Apex Solar case firmly established a precedent.
Janet C. Christensen Lewis, a director of the Kent County Conservation and Preservation Alliance, put it this way.
“HB 1350 does not resolve all the issues of giving the PSC authority to interfere in local land use. However, in future cases, the PSC must give more weight to local land planning where preemption might apply.”
Since March, Urban Grid has twice sought postponements of its hearing dates before the PSC.
It may be giving the Morgnec Road project second thoughts. Stay tuned.