Limits To Solar On Ag Land Difficult

SNOW HILL – Staff told county officials this week that even if they wanted to they could do little to limit solar farms in the area.

The Worcester County Commissioners, at the request of District 4 Commissioner Ted Elder, discussed the prospect of implementing restrictions on the growing number of solar farms at their meeting Tuesday. Ed Tudor, the county’s director of developmental review and permitting, said there was little that could be done because the larger systems were regulated by the Maryland Public Service Commission.

“Until the Maryland legislature does something to give zoning control back to the counties, back to the local jurisdictions, for those projects that currently are exempted because of the Public Service Commission, we’re really stuck,” Tudor said. “Unfortunately, they have taken that out of our hands.”

According to Tudor, the county began regulating solar energy in 2011. The code identifies four different sizes of systems and regulates each differently.

“The larger solar systems, what some people refer to as the solar farms, which are 2 megawatts or greater, are regulated by the Public Service Commission,” he said. “There was a court decision recently that basically said local jurisdictions have no authority in these types of projects.”

He added that developers of some large-scale projects in Worcester County had nevertheless made an effort to comply with the county’s solar regulations. He added that if the commissioners did move forward with efforts to further regulate solar they had to remember that what they did would impact all sorts of projects.

“If we get into a discussion of regulating solar panels I just caution it’s a very broad subject area and has a lot of implications,” he said. “Anything you do will affect all those that are deployed out there today.”

Elder said he was worried large solar farms were turning the county’s farmland into industrial zones.

“In the future when these government subsidies run out and they have a life of 20-30 years are we going to have a conglomeration of solar junkyards all over Worcester County?” he said.

He said he didn’t object to roof-mounted solar panels but didn’t see the need for various fields filled with solar panels.

“We need to figure out some way of protecting our rural nature,” he said.

Tudor said he didn’t disagree but said there was nothing the county could do at this point regarding the solar projects larger than 2 megawatts.

“The state has completely preempted us on our regulations,” said Maureen Howarth, the county’s attorney.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.