On Monday November 4th, the Howard County Council voted down CB55-2019, a bill that would’ve put a moratorium on agricultural preserve parcel solar installations until a county task force could make recommendations on rules for siting ground mount arrays on these parcels moving forward. If passed, it would have put a dampening effect on solar growth in the county.
Many of the residents who testified at the bill’s public hearing on October 21st were against the bill: climate activists, solar industry representatives, environmentally-conscious citizens, and yes- ag preserve land owners. Several farmers that have signed on to lease an allowable portion of their land to solar projects said that this income will allow them to keep their farm, which may otherwise be economically unfeasible.
[A 2016 bill sponsored by then-Council member Calvin Ball allowed commercial solar facilities on ag preserve land given that it would be a secondary conditional use (there are over a dozen other allowed secondary uses, solar was just added to the list).]
After hearing the testimony from the public and discussing CB55-2019 at length in the work session, it was voted down by every member of the council except the bill’s sponsor, Council member Yungmann of District 5.
What happened to the accompanying resolution, though, is very interesting. The resolution, CR133-2019, called for the establishment of the task force referenced in the bill, the only goal of which was to evaluate & discuss new rules for ag preserve solar siting. But what Council members Jones, Rigby, Walsh and Jung decided to do was take points made during the public testimony and incorporate them into the directives for the task force.
Originally, the task force was going to be seven members with a fairly limited scope. But at the November 4th vote, the resolution was amended to include the following:
These additions to the resolution open up a larger opportunity for solar to expand and thrive in Howard County, while coexisting with already-established rules and land uses.