Thrive 2050: planning for our future

Dear residents,

In the coming months, the Council is expected to finalize a vision document to guide the future growth of our community.

It is called “Thrive Montgomery 2050” and you may have heard something about it.

It is not a rezoning nor does it allow anyone to do anything with their property that they cannot do already. Instead, it is a broad vision with objectives and strategies that can be implemented with future community-driven plans.

Some opponents, including the County Executive, are calling on the Council to stop working on this initiative, despite the fact that it has been underway for nearly two years and we have received public testimony and input from hundreds of residents.

While I don’t support delay, I certainly think we can improve on the draft that we received and I am reading through the feedback I am receiving.

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Accelerating the Electrification of the RideOn Fleet and Seniors Ride Free

MEMORANDUM

To: Council President Hucker and Councilmember Glass
From: Hans Riemer
Date: April 22, 2021
Re: Accelerating the Electrification of the RideOn Fleet and Seniors Ride Free

When the Transportation and Environment Committee takes up the RideOn operating and capital budgets on April 30, I request your thoughtful consideration of the following two proposals I will offer at the worksession.

First, I propose that we include funding in the FY23 Ride On Bus Fleet (P500821) to purchase an additional 10 electric buses instead of diesel buses. Importantly, these new electric buses would be earmarked for the mid and upcounty and stationed at the Gaithersburg Depot. To that end, I ask that the Department of General Services and RideOn begin work to build out charging and electrical capacity at the Gaithersburg Depot. Based on cost estimates provided by MCDOT, the fiscal impact would be approximately $3,860,000.

Combined with a proposed microgrid and other electrical upgrades at the Brookeville Depot, the County Executive recently proposed a schedule of 50 new electric buses over the next 4 years. These are smart investments, but they are geographically-bounded to the down county. My proposal would bring the benefits of electric buses to our mid and upcounty residents.

Second, I’d like to propose that we make RideOn and Metrobus free 24/7 for seniors and people with disabilities. Notwithstanding the current—and temporary—pause on all fare collection for RideOn, seniors and people with disabilities would normally ride free on RideOn and MetroBus Monday-Friday, between the hours of 9am – 3pm, Saturday, between the hours of 8:30am – 4pm, and half fares the rest of the time. Building on previous Council actions to make the bus access more equitable and affordable, I believe now is the time to make RideOn and Metrobus free for our residents most in need. MCDOT has estimated that this targeted expansion would require an additional $949,720 in funding for FY22: $705,620 in RideOn revenue loss and $244,100 in WMATA reimbursement.

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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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