Why I voted “no”

When I introduced the “farm + solar” zoning change with Council President Tom Hucker back in January 2020, my goal was to build a cornerstone of Montgomery County’s climate action policy.

By allowing less than 2% of the land in the County zoned “Agricultural Reserve” (which is itself one-third of all land in the County) to be used for privately funded community solar projects, the proposal would have generated enough clean energy to power more than 50,000 homes, while continuing agricultural practices on that land.

Regrettably, with opposition fueled by the County Executive, a majority of Councilmembers adopted two amendments to ZTA 20-01 that are so restrictive that the proposal may result in very little if any solar.

As a result, I voted “no,” because I am concerned that rather than a small step forward for Montgomery County, it may be a large step backward for Maryland. Consider these words from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which along with the Sierra Club and Poolesville Green strongly supported the original plan:

Clean energy has to go somewhere. If liberal Montgomery County can’t reach a sensible compromise policy, imagine the push back from Republican county and state elected leaders who think climate change is a hoax anyway.

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Finding a way forward on farm solar

As a lead sponsor of the proposed zoning change to allow “community solar” on less than 2% of the County’s 100,000 acres of land zone Agricultural Reserve, I can no longer support the zoning change as it was amended by the Council on January 26, 2021. If it comes before the Council again, I am hopeful that we will still find a compromise that provides a clean path forward for a meaningful amount of solar energy; if not, with regret I will vote against it.

The original proposal I introduced with Council President Tom Hucker would have generated enough clean electricity to power about 50,000 homes, helping the County achieve important climate goals and supporting State goals to shut down coal-fired power plants — all while providing discounted clean energy to low income residents.

Working with groups such as the Sierra Club, Poolesville Green and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, we developed a plan that we hoped would be a cornerstone of our County’s environmental and climate action agenda.

The Council’s amendments thus far, unfortunately, restrict the land that can be used so significantly that, if adopted, the zoning proposal would establish a local precedent for solar power that many clean energy advocates are warning us could move Maryland backwards rather than forward, akin to a local government blocking offshore wind generation on the Eastern Shore.

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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.
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Removing barriers to agritourism (for example, wineries)

As the Council continues its work on County’s Growth and Infrastructure policy and related impact tax changes, Councilmember Friedson and I have proposed impact tax changes aimed at supporting our burgeoning agritourism industry. This follows my work to support farm alcohol producers, which has helped stimulate a growing sector. You can learn more about the impact tax proposal for agritourism here or below.


MEMORANDUM

To: County Council
From: Councilmembers Riemer and Friedson
Date: October 22, 2020
Re: Transportation impact taxes for agritourism


From farm-to-table, pick-your-own produce, and hands-on educational activities to award-winning wineries and farm breweries, agritourism is a critical and growing component of the County’s rural economy. Agritourism also breathes fresh energy into our efforts to preserve farmland. It does this by supporting the financial viability of County farms and enlisting many more County residents into our farmland preservation efforts by providing them unforgettable experiences of our dynamic agricultural economy and its history.

While the County and the Council, in particular, have historically been strong supporters of agritourism (passing important zoning reforms to agritourism in 2014 and to farm alcohol production in 2018, and establishing the Agritourism Advisory Committee to provide recommendations on how to strengthen the sector), there remains a very large, and sometimes insurmountable, hurdle to opening agritourism businesses: transportation impact taxes. Traditionally, buildings used for agricultural purposes have been exempt from transportation impact taxes because they cause de minimis traffic. However, it has been brought to our attention by the agricultural community, due to certain provisions in the existing impact tax law and building code, agritourism businesses are facing enormous transportation impact tax bills that bear little connection to their actual impact on the transportation system.

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Here’s how Montgomery County can lead on climate change

Dear resident:

Years ago the County Council made a consequential decision to set aside nearly one-third of all land in our County for agriculture, through restrictive zoning.

Today I am calling on our Council to take a new and bold step forward in the fight against climate change — a crisis that Joe Biden highlighted in his convention speech — by revising the zoning code to allow the blending of solar arrays with farmland on a small portion of the Agricultural Reserve.

Farm Solar (ZTA 20-01)

Farming and solar can go together. Elsewhere, visionary farmers are pioneering “dual use” of land beneath solar arrays by Keep Reading >>