Editor’s Note: This post has been edited to reflect, that councilwoman Vicki Almond has removed her name from this piece of legislation as of 2.28.17.
To our friends and neighbors of Baltimore County,
Below you will find Bill 9-17, a solar bill aimed at creating regulations for the establishment of solar “farms” in Baltimore County. Following my introduction of a proposed Solar Moratorium in October, 2017 and of an initial Bill regulating Solar on Agricultural land in November, I set about creating comprehensive solar legislation. My goals for this piece of legislation are as follows: encourage the development of Solar facilities in a smart way, preserve our food production potential through the preservation of agricultural land and improve efforts to keep our waters clean through land and forest preservation. The final product has been the result of intense negotiation, and I believe it ultimately achieves these goals. The public input meeting on this legislation will take place at the Work Session on February 28, 2017.
Council Fiscal Note March 6, 2017
Bill 9-17 Council District(s) _All_
Councilmembers Kach, Marks & Jones
Bill 9-17 proposes to regulate the location and the requirements for a Solar Facility in Baltimore County.
A Solar Facility is not currently regulated by the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations, although several such facilities have been authorized, by administrative decision, to file for a special exception in certain rural zones as a public utility.
Bill 9‑17 states the County Council=s recognition that solar energy is an abundant, renewable, and environmentally sustainable source of electricity generation that produces clean energy and reduces air and water pollution caused by the burning of traditional fossil fuels. The bill also states that it is the policy of the County to balance the benefits of solar energy production with the potential impact of solar energy‑producing facilities upon the County=s land use policies, particularly in resource conservation and agricultural zones, as well as in business and manufacturing zones where the impact of such facilities on surrounding residential communities must be considered.
The bill defines a ASolar Facility@ as a facility that includes a series of one or more solar collectors or solar energy systems that are placed in an area on a parcel of land for the purpose of generating photovoltaic power for commercial use. The term includes a solar power plant or solar photovoltaic farm.
ACommercial use@ is defined as the transfer to the electrical power grid of energy produced by a solar facility for energy credits to consumers.
Because some solar facilities previously have been allowed to file as a public utility, Bill 9‑17 makes it abundantly clear that a Solar Facility may not be considered a public utility under the Baltimore County Code or the Baltimore County Zoning Regulations.
Bill 9-17 (cont’d) March 6, 2017
Exempted from the provisions of the bill are a Solar Facility that is:
- Located in a yard area, building, or structure that is accessory to a principal residential, agricultural, commercial, or institutional use;
- On federal, state, or local government‑owned or leased land that produces energy for government use; or
- Using at least 75% of the energy generated for agricultural uses.
A Solar Facility is permitted by special exception in the R.C.2, R.C.3, R.C.4, R.C.5, R.C.6, R.C.7, R.C.8, B.L., B.M., M.R., M.L.R., and M.H. zones of the County. A Solar Facility proposed in an R.C. Zone is subject to the following requirements:
- The land on which a Solar Facility is proposed may not be encumbered by an Agricultural Preservation easement, an Environmental Preservation easement, or a Rural Legacy easement;
- The land on which a Solar Facility is proposed may not be located in a Baltimore County Historic District or on a property that is listed on the Baltimore County Final Historical Landmarks List;
- The portion of the land on which a Solar Facility is proposed may not be located in a forest conservation easement, a forest as defined in the County Code, or a designated conservancy area in an R.C.4 or R.C.6 Zone;
- The maximum size of a Solar Facility as measured from the perimeter is 30 acres until June 30, 2018, and 40 acres beginning on July 1, 2018;
- Aboveground components of the Solar Facility, including solar collection panels, inverters, and similar equipment must be set back a minimum of 50 feet from the tract boundary, except that the setback does not apply to the installation of the associated landscaping, security fencing, wiring, or power lines; and the Administrative Law Judge, or Board of Appeals on appeal, may increase or decrease the setback by up to 25 feet based on the particular circumstances of a case;
- A structure may not exceed 16 feet in height;
- A landscaping buffer shall be provided around the perimeter of a Solar Facility that is visible from an adjacent residentially used property or public street; screening of state and local scenic routes and scenic views is required in accordance with the Baltimore County Landscape Manual;
- Security fencing shall be provided between the landscaping buffer and the Solar Facility;
Bill 9-17 (cont’d) March 6, 2017
- A solar collector panel or combination of solar collector panels shall be designed and located in an arrangement that minimizes glare or reflection onto adjacent properties and adjacent roadways and does not interfere with traffic or create a safety hazard;
- A petitioner must comply with the requirements of Section 33‑3‑108 of the County Code regarding the filing of a plan of development with the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability;
- A petitioner is required to send notice of the public hearing on the special exception via certified mail, return receipt requested, to adjoining property owners and community associations at least 60 days prior to the hearing;
- In the R.C.2, R.C.6, R.C.7, and R.C.8 zones, a petitioner shall demonstrate at a hearing that measures are being taken at the location of the Solar Facility to minimize the impacts of the facility on prime and productive agricultural soil; and
- The Administrative Law Judge, or Board of Appeals on appeal, may impose conditions or restrictions on the Solar Facility use as necessary to protect the environment and scenic views, and to lessen the impact of the facility on the health, safety, and general welfare of surrounding residentially-used properties and communities.
A Solar Facility proposed in a business or manufacturing zone is subject to the setback, height limitation, and landscaping buffer required in the R.C. zones.
A security bond must be filed with the County in the form and amount determined by the Administrative Officer. The bond may be used to ensure the repair of any unsafe or hazardous conditions or the removal of a Solar Facility.
All parties with a lease or ownership interest in a Solar Facility are responsible for the maintenance of the facility, including painting, structural repairs, and maintenance of the landscape buffers and vegetation. A facility that has reached the end of its useful life or has been abandoned is required to be removed. The owner or operator must physically remove the installation no more than 150 days after the date of discontinued operations and notify the County by certified mail of the proposed date of discontinued operations and plans for removal. If the owner or operator fails to remove the facility within 150 days of abandonment, the County retains the right to enter and remove the facility.
The Code Official enforces the provisions of the Article.
Bill 9-17 (cont’d) March 6, 2017
Finally, as part of the general criteria for granting a special exception related to the impact on the environment and natural resources of the site and vicinity including forests, streams, wetlands, aquifers, and floodplains in an R.C.2, R.C.4, R.C.5, or R.C.7 Zone, Bill 9-17 also includes the R.C.3, R.C.6, and R.C.8 zones when in consideration of a Solar Facility use.
With the affirmative vote of five members of the County Council, Bill 9‑17 will take effect on March 20, 2017 and apply retroactively to any zoning petition filed after October 18, 2016, except that the requirements of subparagraphs A.3, A.5, A.7, A.8, and A.13 shall apply retroactively to any zoning petition filed after July 1, 2016.