Solar Siting Changes on the Agenda in Talbot County
By: Carol Bean, Agricultural Specialist
After imposing a five month moratorium on the processing of new large-scale solar energy applications back in March, the Talbot County Council requested the Talbot Planning Commission to develop and propose zoning amendments meant to reduce the impact of large, industrial-scale solar field placement on prime agricultural lands.
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) has been tracking the recent efforts of counties across our region as they race to establish policies to promote smart solar siting, policies that minimize the risk of our best agricultural soils winding up under a solar array for decades. Though the current pace of potential solar projects on the Eastern Shore has skyrocketed in recent years, this development has been a long time in the making. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, more than 70 percent of active and pipeline solar projects are located on the Eastern Shore.
Bill 1524 was introduced by the Talbot County Council earlier this month and contains a provision which would require any large-scale solar project to make an offset payment for acres removed from agricultural production to the county’s Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation program. The program has already preserved over 12,000 acres in Talbot County.
While this is laudable and could result in an acceleration of farmland acres that would be permanently protected from any kind of future development – be it solar or otherwise – it still leaves open the prospect that some of the most historically productive farm fields would be at risk for conversion to industrial-scale solar fields.
An amendment to the legislation, meant to strengthen the protection of the county’s best cropland, was proposed at the August 23 council meeting and will be considered, along with the underlying legislation at a public hearing on September 13. The amendment would utilize the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) scoring system to identify the most appropriate location for solar field siting and lands of the highest agricultural value would be ineligible for utility-scale solar projects.
ESLC staff are working closely with both the Talbot Planning Commission and County Council to research effective public policies for smart solar siting and collaborated with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to develop maps that model the potential impact to farmland from various solar siting policy scenarios. Applying the MALPH scoring system would protect the best farmland from industrial solar development without unduly hindering the establishment of a robust solar industry in the county. We applaud the county for their thoughtful approach to a challenging issue that will have long-standing repercussions to our region and ESLC supports adoption of the amendment and Bill 1524. A public hearing will be held on Tuesday, September 13 at 6:30 pm, and we encourage Talbot County residents interested in this issue to attend.