By Adam Pagnucco.
Last month, Delegate Kumar Barve, chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, warned the county council not to pass a version of a zoning text amendment that effectively prevented most solar development in the agricultural reserve. Now that they have ignored his warning and passed it anyway, Barve has authored a blistering opinion piece in the Washington Post condemning the majority of the council for “sabotaging affordable clean energy.” Barve also wrote that the council’s action has spawned imitators, possibly leading to “a chain reaction of solar prohibitions.”
The state delegation and county electeds have long had ups and downs, sometimes cooperating and sometimes grumbling. Usually the grumbling does not appear in public, but there are exceptions like Delegate Eric Luedtke’s op-ed criticizing county officials for ignoring upcounty. Barve’s piece is harsher and, coming from one of the top environmental policy makers in the state, may ultimately be more consequential.
That said, the council has made its decision on solar in the agricultural reserve. What’s next? Obviously, an election is coming. The most important single change to the original zoning text amendment was one restricting placement of solar panels on certain soil types. That change passed on a 6-3 vote. Three council members are term limited: two who voted for the change (Council Members Craig Rice and Nancy Navarro) and one who voted against it (Hans Riemer). So assuming that all of the remaining incumbents return, the tally would be 4-2 in favor of the soil restriction.
The next council will have 11 members because of the passage of Question C last year. If 4 of the 5 new council members favor solar in the ag reserve, they could undo the soil restriction on a 6-5 vote. Could that happen? It’s possible but it becomes more likely if the Sierra Club – which supported the original zoning text amendment – conditions its endorsement in the next election on whether candidates favor liberalizing solar restrictions. If that occurs, solar proponents have a shot at getting their way. If not, MoCo’s restrictions have a greater chance of becoming permanent unless Barve and the General Assembly find a way to preempt them.