New poll shows 69 percent of Montgomery County voters and 85 percent of Democrats support farm solar

Riemer: “It’s time for Council action. Legalizing 1,800 acres of farm solar arrays would be our biggest step yet to address the climate emergency”

ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 15, 2020—A new poll released today by Chesapeake Climate Action (CCAN) finds overwhelming support among Montgomery County voters for a proposal that is before the Montgomery County Council to legalize a limited amount of solar arrays on farm land in the County.

The zoning proposal, Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 20-01, authored by Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee (PHED) Chair Hans Riemer and Transportation and Environment Committee (T&E) Chair Tom Hucker, would allow solar arrays for community solar and aggregate net metered installations on land in the Agricultural Reserve zone. These solar installations are capped at two megawatts of energy generation, which generally requires about 10 to 12 acres of land. Community solar projects have a strong low-income component and aggregate net metered arrays are limited to local government, non-profit or agricultural entities. The zoning change would limit installations to a maximum of 1,800 acres in the more than 90,000 acre reserve. The land would be required to continue supporting agricultural uses through pollinator-friendly plant cultivation, food crop production or herd grazing. The plan also has strong forest, runoff and other environmental protections that exceed what is otherwise required for farm land.

The poll was conducted by Gonzalez Polls Inc., in December of 2020 and released on December 15, 2020. Following is excerpted from the report released today by CCAN:

Question:
One proposal for fighting global warming in Montgomery County is to change county law to allow some farmers in the county’s Agricultural Reserve to put solar farms of limited size on their land. Critics – including many farmers – say this will harm the rural character of the reserve. But, a County Council committee voted in August to support the practice as long as no more than 2 percent of agricultural land is used and part of the solar power is reserved for low and moderate income residents. Would you support or oppose allowing county farmers to put solar farms on their land if no more than 2 percent of Montgomery’s Agricultural Reserve is used and part of the solar power created goes to low and moderate-income households?

CCAN/Gonzales analysis of response:
Countywide, 69 percent of voters support allowing county farmers to put solar farms on their land if no more than two percent of Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve is used and part of the solar power created goes to low-and moderate-income households (47 percent “strongly support” and 22 percent “somewhat support”), while 21 percent oppose allowing county farmers to put solar farms on their land (18 percent “strongly oppose” and three percent “somewhat oppose”), with 10 percent giving no answer.

The results by party, gender and age:

  Support Oppose
Democrat 85% 5%
Republican 25% 65%
Unaffiliated 51% 40%
Women 70% 22%
Men 68% 20%
Under age 50 75% 16%
Age 50 and older 65% 25%

Councilmember Riemer said, “National experts are clear that the most urgent policy priority for slowing climate change is cleaning up the electricity grid. That goal has public support and it is also within our reach. This zoning change will ensure that Montgomery County does its share because the only way we are going to win this fight is if we all do what we can. We need rooftop solar, parking lot solar and farm solar. Combining solar with agricultural production is an innovative best practice that, thanks to our Agricultural Reserve policy, we are well positioned to pioneer.”

“This bill, which has overwhelming public support, will provide solar power for over 50,000 homes in Montgomery County,” Council President Hucker said. “We have a responsibility to develop innovative and sustainable solutions to adapt to a changing climate. Moving this proposal forward will expedite solar adoption in the county and be a major step toward meeting our climate and energy goals.”

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said, “This poll clearly shows enormous voter support for solar power in Montgomery County — but also growing impatience with the pace of action. Voters in the county, including majorities in every Council district, want the full Council to pass a prudent solar farming bill that is now before the body. Weakening that bill or doing nothing is NOT what voters want.”

The proposed 1,800 acres (about 2 percent of more than 90,000 acres zoned Agricultural Reserve) for dual use “solar and farming” is intended to help free the electricity grid from coal and gas power plants, which directly generate almost 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Shutting down those plants and switching the sources of energy in the grid from coal and gas to solar and wind is the best and fastest solution we have to reduce emissions and halt climate change.

With state-of-the-art design and ever improving solar technology the plan could power as many as 50,000 homes, or nearly 13 percent of total County residential housing units. Put another way, the proposal could reduce total County emissions by over 4 percent. No other proposal considered by the Council has such significant, measurable and deliverable outcomes.

The ZTA has been the subject of extensive and rigorous deliberation. This zoning change was introduced on January 21, 2020, and had an in-person public hearing on March 3, 2020. There were three joint PHED and T&E Committee meetings on the proposal in July. The full Council held a worksession on ZTA 20-01 on October 13, where they agreed to conduct additional stakeholder engagement by having a town-hall meeting and constituting a stakeholder workgroup to provide compromise recommendations to the Council. The ZTA is expected to return to the full Council for final action in January 2021.

For additional information contact Tommy Heyboer in Councilmember Hans Riemer’s office, tommy.heyboer@montgomerycountymd.gov or 240.777.7964

The CCAN poll is available here.

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