Maryland’s ambitious goal to derive half its electricity from renewable sources by the end of next decade has spawned a thorny question for policymakers: where should solar and wind farms go?
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Wednesday took a step toward an answer, issuing an executive order the administration hopes will ultimately expedite the placement of potentially dozens of solar and wind farms — and steer them away from the fertile farmland Maryland has spent generations trying to protect.
Hogan’s order forms a task force that consists primarily of cabinet officials but also includes representatives from local government and the renewable energy industry. The group must complete an initial report by December that will recommend new state laws on selecting renewable energy sites.
The administration also announced $4 million in grants to encourage solar and wind arrays on roofs, parking lots, contaminated brownfield sites and other existing infrastructure, with an eye toward erecting panels on state and university owned property.
In recent years, zoning fights have stalled renewable energy projects or led to temporary moratoriums in several places in the state.
But Maryland’s highest court ruled last month that state energy regulators — and not local governments — have final say over the placement of solar and wind farms. The case decided by the Maryland Court of Appeals stemmed from a disagreement in rural Western Maryland over a 42,000-panel project on 86 acres in Washington County. Among other complains, neighbors said the project would obstruct their views.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, said task force plans were underway before the court case was decided. Hogan named a former Washington County commissioner, Greg Snook, to chair the task force.
The Democratic-majority General Assembly passed a law in 2016 requiring renewable sources to make up a quarter of the state’s electricity by the end of next year. This year, the legislature increased the goal to 50 percent by 2030 and enhanced subsidies to help achieve it. Ten other states and D.C. also have laws with a 50 percent or higher threshold, according to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Hogan vetoed the 2016 legislation, citing the potential for rate increases, and was overriden by the General Assembly. He also objected to the cost of the 2019 legislation, but he announced in May he would let it become law without his signature and wanted to see the state derive 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2040.