County Revises Solar Panel Requirements

SNOW HILL – After weeks of discussion, the Worcester County Planning Commission has finally made a decision over the future of solar panels in the county.

The commission voted unanimously to support the latest revision of a plan drawn up by Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor. However, commissioners found one sticking point in the document that they voted to change, despite Tudor’s advice to the contrary.

The issue of contention had to do with the maximum amount of solar panels allowed on a property before screening was necessary. Throughout the discourse on Worcester’s solar future over the previous months, several commissioners have speculated that the panels could become eyesores in residential neighborhoods. In an effort to address this, Tudor added language into the solar energy bill requiring ground based panel areas greater than 1,000 square feet (about 10 kilowatts) to be screened from view.

“In my opinion, if you can’t see them [panels] from an adjourning property [they’re not an issue],” Tudor told the commission.

Besides the amendment about screening, a few other polishes were made to this latest version of the solar document, mainly in the elimination of some unnecessary language.

“If I missed the mark, I missed the mark,” Tudor said in regards to the revisions.

Commissioner Wayne Hartman has been the main advocate in favor of curtailing the number of solar panels a resident would be allowed to install on their property. Since the topic first appeared in front of the commission, he has expressed concern over the aesthetic impact an excess of solar panels could have on a neighborhood. While the suggested screening policy was added by Tudor mainly because of Hartman’s worries, it wasn’t quite enough to satisfy the commissioner.

“I’m still unhappy with it,” Hartman said about the screening, but informed the assembly that he would be willing to endorse it if everyone else felt it was adequate.

After discussion, however, the commission decided to make screening mandatory at an even lower level, choosing to change the document to require screening on any amount of solar panels that generated five kilowatts or greater.

While Tudor warned that the policy might be too strict and could discourage residents from installing panels, the commissioners stuck with the newer, more conservative numbers.

The bill will now go to the County Commissioners for a public hearing.