By Patrick Brooks
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The Baltimore County Council Tuesday decided to toss out a bill that would regulate the placement of solar facilities in rural areas of the county.
Councilman Wade Kach, R-Third District, who was the lead sponsor of the bill, withdrew the legislation because, he said, the council needed more time to consider the impact solar facilities would have on surrounding areas.
The move came after Councilwoman Vicki Almond, D-Second District, withdrew her name and support from the bill during a work session Tuesday.
“This decision was made after much consideration and after talks with many people,” Almond said. “This matter is very complicated, and I’m learning new information every day that suggests we need to start over and look at this issue again.”
Bill 9-17, which defines what constitutes a solar facility and where they can be placed in the county, was the only item on the council’s agenda that drew opposition from the public.
The bill would have defined a solar facility in Baltimore County as one or more “solar collectors or solar energy systems” that are used to produce power for commercial use. These facilities could not be placed in historic districts, areas where there was active forest conservation or any land protected by agricultural or preservation easements, according to the bill.
The bill also stated that any “solar facility” located in someone’s yard or on their home for the purpose of providing energy to their residence was exempt from the bill.
“Overinvestment in current solar technologies in Baltimore County will deplete our current natural resources,” said Kathy Pieper, a representative from the North County Community Group with a background in biochemical engineering. “It will preclude our residents from opportunities to benefit from competitive energy technologies from within and beyond the solar industry.”
The North County Community Group is a “grassroots organization that strives to preserve Northern Baltimore County’s rural culture,” according to its Facebook page. There were several members from the group who attended the meeting and chose to speak in opposition of the bill.
Wanda Lehman, a realtor and one of the founding members of the organization, said the county must protect the Green Spring Valley, a spacious rural area in Northern Baltimore County, and all the farmland in the county, which she says help to increase property values.
“We should be able to embrace progress while not sacrificing our way of life,” Lehman said. “If we’re not proactive we’re going to be overrun with commercialism and lose our way of life. It’s our livelihood on the line.”
There were 11 people who attended the meeting to share their thoughts on Bill 9-17, but most chose not to speak or made brief comments after Kach decided to withdraw the bill. All speakers agreed that they wanted Baltimore County to have access to clean renewable energy, but they had concerns over where the solar facilities would be located.
“We can have it all,” said Theresa Moore, a Baltimore resident who has been working on the issue with people on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. “We want to be a leader in solar energy, that’s important to us, but it’s also important where you put it.”
Almond suggested that a new version of the bill be presented as early as April, but Kach believed that was not enough time to properly gather all the information necessary to make the proper changes.
“Our goal has always been to protect the productive farmland and clean water,” Kach said. “I think we need to look at this bill all the way through the summer to make sure we hear all the different arguments and facts.”
Kach and Almond agreed to work together on another solar facility bill, one that would take more time and be properly vetted.
“Moving forward we will be including all of the stakeholders in this,” Almond said. “Not just a few here and there but everyone who has a comment about solar energy will be included in the future.”