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Conserve, steward, and advocate for the unique rural landscape of the Eastern Shore.

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A Win For Solar and a Win For Farmland

On October 11th, the Talbot County Council passed legislation (Bill No. 1524)  with the intent of reducing the impact of large, industrial-scale solar field placement on prime agricultural lands.  Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) worked extensively with the County Council and Planning Commission during this process, which was acknowledged by Councilman Frank Divilio during the session.  “I appreciate the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and ESLC trying to figure out the best way to prevent solar from coming on our best farmland,” said Divilio. Passage of the bill will end the months-long moratorium over these projects.

Solar field in Worton (Kent County, MD); photo by Dave Harp

Because the Eastern Shore’s flat, open farm fields are ideal for solar development projects, the vast majority of solar projects in the permitting pipeline are proposed for the Shore. The county council and planning commission have worked for months to craft legislation that encourages the development of renewable solar energy without sacrificing too much valuable prime farmland, which comprises a significant portion of both the economy and culture of the area.

The newly-passed legislation contains key provisions to bolster farmland preservation. One such provision requires an off-set payment for every acre taken out of production, which Councilman Peter Lesher thought could “yield significant funds for our agricultural land preservation fund.  This, despite exempting a couple of projects, is a significant step forward for Talbot County and for enabling solar development in Talbot County.”

The one dissenting vote came from Councilwoman Laura Price, who feared the provisions exempting the very best farmland from solar development might not withstand the scrutiny of the Public Service Commission (PSC). The PSC, and not individual counties, has the ultimate authority to approve solar development projects. As the Maryland Department of Planning’s website states, “siting restrictions can be overruled by the Maryland Public Services Commission.”

Lesher acknowledged that “part of the calculus here is what will withstand a pre-emption challenge before the PSC” but expressed hope that “with this amendment we have gone a step further in demonstrating that the county is working with solar installation developers and landowners” which should strengthen the county’s position should it find this new legislation challenged by solar developers in the future.

The full text of the new legislation can be found here.

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