By Adam Pagnucco.
Stefano Ratti, President of Chaberton Energy, has told the county council that his firm has given up its plans to proceed with solar energy projects in Montgomery County. Chaberton Energy is based in Kensington and operates throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Ratti blasted two amendments made by the council on Tuesday to a pending zoning text amendment on solar projects in the agricultural reserve. Together, they would effectively ban solar panels in 99% of the reserve’s acreage and add potentially time-consuming review requirements on the remaining acres. Council Members Gabe Albornoz, Andrew Friedson, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice voted for both amendments while Will Jawando voted only for the amendment on review requirements. Council Members Hans Riemer, Evan Glass and Tom Hucker voted against both.
Banning solar panels on Class I and Class II soils would effectively allow them on only 1,324 acres of the agricultural reserve’s 101,541 acres.
Ratti’s email to the council, sent yesterday, is reprinted below.
From: Stefano Ratti
Date: Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at 11:25 AM
Subject: Solar Energy in the County
Councilmembers Friedson, Albornoz, Navarro, Rice, and Katz,
I am grateful for the work you do on the County Council, but, with yesterday’s vote on excluding Class II soils (and, to a lesser extent, changing the use to conditional), you have now killed the possibility of doing solar energy in any meaningful way in Montgomery County. In the middle of a pandemic you killed an opportunity to create local jobs, do a lot of good for the environment, bring revenue to the County (which could have been used for the benefit of the Ag Reserve), help local landowners, and save money on electricity bills for county residents (particularly low-income residents, under the state community solar program). You also voted against 70% of the residents of Montgomery County, who demand action on environmental issues. With one single vote.
Here is what the next few days look like for me and my Montgomery County solar team:
We are going to rescind the five land options we have with our Montgomery County landowners (they are, like everything else in the County, on Class II soil – we have canvassed the county for one year and we have been unable to find one single viable non-class II property)
We are going to meet with our landowners and explain that, unfortunately, no, the county doesn’t want you to have a solar farm
We are going to tell our investors that we didn’t clear the Montgomery County ZTA milestone; they will not release the development funds that were earmarked for Montgomery County projects
We also have to tell our investors that we lost 30% of our proposed projects and we will have to figure out how to keep our business viable, which our staff and their families rely on; yes, we are a Montgomery County business, but, no, we are de facto blocked from operating in our own county
We will call our headhunters and tell them to stop looking for staff
We are also going to terminate contracts with our local contractors; we are going to call them and say, that, unfortunately, no solar project is going to happen in our county (whether it’s us or other solar companies)
All that this vote achieves is to “preserve” a handful of acres of land that is currently producing feed for animal consumption, or sitting fallow. Along with a couple of farming jobs, which could have been easily re-purposed to establish and maintain agricultural activities on the solar installations, while we are missing out on the economic benefits for the farming community*. Running us out of the county appeases a vocal minority of NIMBY activists, who don’t mind keeping fossil fuel plants open, as long as they are not in their backyard, but rather in disadvantaged communities who don’t get to have their voices heard.
I am not proud to be a Montgomery County resident today.
Councilmembers Riemer and Hucker, a heartfelt thank you for all the effort you have put in sponsoring this bill; you are probably just as disappointed as we are, but know that your genuine efforts to do good for the environment and help the local economy are not going unappreciated; and doing the right thing always has a value on its own. Councilmember Glass and Jawando: thank you for your vote on Class II soil and recognizing that excluding Class II soil makes it impossible to do anything. And we urge you to vote against passing the ZTA version with the class II soil exclusion.
* See for example report published just today from Rocky Mountain Institute: https://rmi.org/insight/seeds-of-opportunity/ “Seed of Opportunity – How Rural America Is Reaping Economic Development Benefits from the Growth of Renewables”