Tag Archives: environment

Barve Bashes the Council on Solar

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.


Top Seventh State Stories, February 2021

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in February ranked by page views.

1. Raskin Chief of Staff Writes About Attack on the Capitol
2. MoCo Solar Power Company Throws in the Towel
3. Is MoCo Ready to Reimagine the Police?
4. Once Again, Who’s the Boss?
5. State Legislators to Hogan: Send MoCo More Vaccines
6. Brandy’s Bonkers Bucks
7. What Climate Emergency?
8. Brandy Brooks is Back
9. Barve Warns Council on Solar
10. What Happened to White Flint?

The post about the Capitol insurrection by Julie Tagen, who is Congressman Jamie Raskin’s Chief of Staff, is the first one to lead our list two months in a row. After a strong run in January, this article took off again starting February 9 when Raskin told this story to the U.S. Senate in his opening argument at the impeachment trial. It remains one of the most riveting items we have ever posted on Seventh State.

The article about White Flint is the first item to appear on our list three months in a row. This one won’t go away. It’s about more than politics; it’s about whether our county can build appealing new communities that can compete with the rest of the region. There is a real hunger for that in MoCo and it will resume prominence after the COVID pandemic winds down.

Then there are the stories about solar in the agricultural reserve. They reveal a split not just among politicians but also inside the county’s environmental community. Some see environmentalism as concerned with the preservation of nature. Others see environmentalism’s biggest priority as preventing climate change from making Earth inhospitable to humans. Both sides are right, of course, but in the case of solar in the ag reserve, their short-term prescriptions for action were at odds. This is not the first sign of an enviro split in MoCo. The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Roger Berliner over Marc Elrich in the 2018 county executive primary was extremely controversial. We may be headed for more internal conflicts in the environmental community in the future.


Riemer vs Elrich on Solar in the Ag Reserve

By Adam Pagnucco.

The extent to which solar panels should be allowed in the agricultural reserve was a big issue this week. Council Member Hans Riemer, one of the lead sponsors of legislation to do so, and County Executive Marc Elrich, who favors less capacity than Riemer, both issued statements this week which we reprint below. For background, you can refer to Bethesda Beat’s account of the county council’s decision on the issue, my column on its context and Delegate Kumar Barve’s letter to the council about the legislation.

First, let’s consider what Riemer had to say in his blast email of February 24.


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.

We should be leading. Our county has adopted climate goals. We declared a “climate emergency.” We have conducted studies on how to reduce our carbon footprint. At the end of the day though, the only way to make a difference is to make policy changes, and changes will require disruption to the status quo.

Yes, many incumbent farmers and preservationists were opposed, due to impacts on their business models (shifting from commodity crops to agrivoltaics, solar grazing, or pollinator-friendly habitats on that portion of land) or a perceived threat that allowing solar is a step to allowing residential or other development (just a fear, not a reality).

There are reasonable questions about how we transition to a clean energy economy. One idea I offered was to use tax revenue from solar arrays to support additional agricultural preservation, grants to help small farmers purchase or lease land, and funds to support agrivoltaic and solar grazing. Nevertheless, under this plan, farming would continue, the Reserve would endure. Frankly not much would seem all that different but we would have made a huge impact on our carbon emissions.

Other choices that we have before us are far more costly, either financially to taxpayers or to businesses or homeowners. This is one of a very few ideas that does not actually require County funds — in fact it would generate millions in new county revenue that could be devoted to the climate agenda while creating new clean energy and solar grazing jobs.

Some of the important points to remember about this proposal include:

  1. Solar fields would have been limited each to 2MW in power generation, about 10-15 acres per property maximum (in contrast to portrayals of “industrial solar”)
  2. Total acreage allowed would have been limited to 1,800 out of the 100,000+ acre reserve, which itself is one-third of all land in the County
  3. Grazing sheep on pollinator-friendly plants beneath the arrays was encouraged and could have been incentivized with new tax revenue from the solar arrays
  4. Solar grazing and agrivoltaics would increase local food production in the Reserve — less than 1% of the land in the Agricultural Reserve today is farmed for fruits and vegetables destined for local farmers markets
  5. Rooftop and parking lot solar, while important, is significantly more expensive than ground-mounted or terrestrial solar fields, which is why you don’t see enough of it
  6. There is nothing more important to saving the climate than creating cheap clean energy
  7. By only allowing “community solar” installations on the land, energy companies taking advantage of the program would be required to offer discounted energy subscriptions to low income residents

The Council majority acknowledged that they are not sure if their proposal will result in new solar projects and that we should return to the topic in two years to evaluate progress.

In that respect, while I am disappointed in the final vote, I am also grateful that we have now opened up the possibility of farms providing community solar (which was previously entirely prohibited; now is mostly prohibited) and I am committed to growing that potential in the future as a necessary public benefit from our Agricultural Reserve.

In the meantime, while it is clear that the original proposal has overwhelming support from voters, we need to build grassroots support, and in particular, we need to educate residents about the primacy of clean energy and the social justice value of community solar.

To be continued.



Now let’s consider Elrich’s statement, issued on February 25.


Dear Friends:

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday voted to adopt changes to the County zoning code that will provide opportunities for locating solar collection systems in the Agricultural Reserve. I extend my thanks to the seven Councilmembers who found common ground that allows for community solar projects while protecting our agricultural resources.

Zoning Text Amendment 20-01 strikes the right balance between the need for renewable energy and the equally important need to protect the Agricultural Reserve’s unique and vital contributions to local food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.

The new standards allow solar collection systems generating up to two megawatts of power as a conditional use on the lesser productive soils in the Ag Reserve. Other provisions protect streams, wetlands, steep slopes greater than 15 percent and forests.

In addition, the areas under the arrays must be used for farming or agricultural purposes. Examples include pollinator-friendly designation, agrivoltaic plantings or crops suitable for grazing farm animals. Another significant change affects property owners who install smaller solar systems to serve their individual energy needs, increasing the amount of on-site energy they can produce from 120 to 200 percent.

The County Council also mandated a formal review process to assess the outcomes of these changes in two years. This will give us the opportunity to observe whether and how this experiment will work, especially regarding the emerging field of agrivoltaics, which focuses on the co-development of land for both solar power and agriculture.

In the meantime, my administration continues to prioritize increased solar energy production in innovative ways. For example, we are currently planning the installation of a six-megawatt array on the County-owned site of an old landfill. We also are looking at ways to incentivize solar projects on existing parking lots and buildings elsewhere throughout the County. These types of projects are essential to our efforts to address climate change through clean energy solutions.

I deeply appreciate the work of all those involved in this year-long review, most especially members of, and advocates for, the farming community and Executive Department staff members. The Ag Reserve, established by prescient County leaders more than 40 years ago, is recognized as a national model of farmland and open space preservation. Its importance and significance grow with each passing year as we witness the effects of climate change on our food and water supplies. The legislation adopted by County Council embodies the need for protecting this resource while allowing us to see whether agriculture and solar systems can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way in Montgomery County.

Marc Elrich
County Executive


What Climate Emergency?

By Adam Pagnucco.

On December 9, 2017, the Montgomery County Council passed a resolution declaring a “climate emergency.” The resolution stated, “Climate change will cause an increase in water and food shortages, civil unrest, state failure, civil war and terrorism throughout the world, with no region or nation being immune to these effects, including Montgomery County.” It went on to state, “We must together implement a massive emergency global mobilization effort to successfully eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and remove excess carbon from the atmosphere. Each of us has the moral duty to safeguard the planet for future generations.”

A climate emergency. Merriam-Webster defines an emergency as “an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action” or “an urgent need for assistance or relief.” Consider the following three matters and then decide if the county is acting like there is a climate “emergency.”

Closing the Dickerson Incinerator

In December 2016, the county’s incinerator in Dickerson was the site of an enormous, 85-foot tall trash fire that required hundreds of fire fighters to put out. It later emerged that the plant had 105 days of unscheduled outages between March and October of 2016, forcing the county to divert tens of thousands of tons of trash. Council Member Marc Elrich, one of the lead sponsors of the council’s climate emergency resolution, promised to close the incinerator when he was running for county executive. In January 2018, he tweeted, “And I’m preparing legislation to create a plan to transition us away from the incinerator so we can close it when our contract expires in 2022.”

But there were two problems. First, outgoing County Executive Ike Leggett extended the incinerator contract with its private sector operator right before leaving office. However, the contract allows the county to buy its way out. The second and bigger problem was that neither Elrich nor the county had any alternative plan for what to do with the waste if the incinerator was closed. Elrich told Bethesda Beat four months after taking office: “I’m gonna phase it out when I can phase it out. But people have to remember that I didn’t say I was gonna shut it down until we had a plan for dealing with the waste… So I’m not shutting it down until we figure out how we’re gonna figure out how we’re gonna increase the amount of recycling.” Elrich later told the Washington Post, “If I can’t do it by 2022, then 2026 gives me four more years… I’m not going to do a bad solution in ’22 just to say I did it in ’22. I would rather be on a path to a good solution. If it’s a year or two or three years later, I can live with it. As long as it’s a better solution than what we’re doing now.”

All of this happened almost two years ago. The incinerator still operates today. As for the promised legislation in 2018 to transition away from the incinerator, it was never introduced.

Climate Planning

In response to the council’s climate emergency resolution, a workgroup of county government, Park and Planning and MCPS collaborated on a 55-page report in 2018 containing more than 100 policy options for a “decarbonized future.” That was just the beginning.

Next, Elrich convened a 222-member transition team to prepare a comprehensive report to guide his new administration. The environmental team was comprised of one captain, two facilitators, three recorders and 25 members. They analyzed greenhouse gas emissions, recycling and code enforcement and issued 16 specific recommendations. (One of them was to “eliminate incineration.”)

The transition team’s report did not lead to a flood of legislation but rather to five climate workgroups with 150 people. The county hired a consultant to assist them and budgeted $400,000 in both FY20 and FY21 to pay for “climate change planning.” The workgroups issued 850 recommendations in a 96-page report. (Once again, one of the recommendations was to “eliminate incineration.”)

This was followed by a 235-page climate action plan released in December. One of Elrich’s staffers told Maryland Matters, “It is the shared responsibility of the county council and the county executive to take the next steps and come up with legislative packages based on the recommended climate actions.”

As of this writing, no legislation has been introduced to advance the recommendations of the climate action plan since its publication. Compare this record to that of former Council Member Roger Berliner, who back in 2014 introduced 11 bills and 2 zoning text amendments on the environment ON THE SAME DAY. (All but two bills passed.) But the county did rename its Energy and Air Quality Advisory Committee as the Climate, Energy and Air Quality Advisory Committee, so there is that.

Solar Energy in the Agricultural Reserve

Solar energy is a frequent topic of the county’s environmental planning. The executive’s transition team recommended, “Electrify everything and exclusively use solar and wind energy.” The climate workgroups recommended, “Evaluate environmental and ecological impact of using land in the agricultural reserve for solar” and “Establish demonstration projects to co-locate PV solar with agricultural production (such as grazing) and pollinator meadows.” The climate action plan mentions the word “solar” 184 times although it takes no position as to whether it should be installed in the agricultural reserve. The report does call for a transition to 100% renewable production of electricity by 2030, of which solar is one component. Presumably, enough space must be designated for solar use to achieve the scale sufficient to meet that goal.

In January 2020, Council Members Hans Riemer and Tom Hucker introduced Zoning Text Amendment 20-01, which allowed solar panels on a maximum of 1,800 acres in the 101,500-acre agricultural reserve. This set off a firestorm, resulting in four committee sessions, two full council sessions, three different news releases concerning “additional stakeholder engagement,” a town hall event, a poll showing 69% support for the legislation among MoCo voters and countless blast emails from feuding environmental groups on opposite sides of the issue. All of this took a year before the council’s votes to add amendments on soil restrictions and review requirements prompted one solar generator to terminate its projects in the county and caused the solar industry to push for the legislation’s defeat. In the end, if the zoning text amendment passes in its current form, it seems likely that no solar panels will be installed in the reserve unless the council members go up there with tool boxes and do it themselves.

There is an upside. The county won’t be getting the 300 megawatts of solar power allowed by the original version of the above zoning text amendment but it will be installing 6 megawatts of solar power at a Gaithersburg landfill.

Climate emergency? What climate emergency?


Barve Warns Council on Solar

By Adam Pagnucco.

Delegate Kumar Barve has sent the county council a letter saying that he is “deeply disturbed” by their actions on a zoning text amendment allowing solar panels in the agricultural reserve. He characterizes two amendments to the measure approved by the council as making solar development in the reserve “essentially impossible.” Finally, he asks the council to withdraw the amended legislation and start over for fear that other counties may try to limit solar energy too.

Let’s remember that Barve is no ordinary delegate. He is the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee and a long-time member of House leadership. That makes him one of the most powerful officials in Annapolis, especially on issues within the jurisdiction of his committee (like solar energy). The state government can and does preempt local governments when state officials believe such action is warranted. Let the council beware.

Barve’s letter to the council is reprinted below.


February 7, 2021

Re: Functional 98% Ban of Affordable Solar Energy in Montgomery County

To the President and Members of the Montgomery County Council:

Living in Montgomery County all my life, I recognize the extraordinary work our County Council is capable of doing including your efforts now during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the Montgomery County Council is recognized for its tremendous past contributions in dealing with an equally dangerous threat to our livelihoods and health: global warming.

I write now because, as a state legislative leader on environmental issues, I am deeply disturbed by the Council’s recent actions impacting the development of solar energy. Specifically, the Council’s decision to restrict solar building on Class 2 soil in the Agricultural Reserve and to impose Conditional Use review to the solar Zoning Text Amendment have made the development of community solar essentially impossible.

Look to the immediate and predictably negative response of solar developers to this action – including businesses in our own county – which make clear that those restrictive conditions effectively shut down any possibility of building solar projects on open land in the Agricultural Reserve.

To fully understand the economic impact of your potential action, realize that energy generated from solar panels placed in open fields (terrestrial) are the only truly affordable source of renewable energy. In fact, a recent analysis by the firm Lazard Ltd. shows that based on price, only terrestrial-based solar panels beats the cost of fossil fuel generation. Rooftop solar can be 2 ½ to 5 times more expensive than terrestrial solar.

The other negative impact of this proposed amendment would be to significantly reduce capacity for small-scale solar projects under the Legislature’s Community Solar program. These are the projects that give low- and middle-class families affordable access to clean energy.

Further, from my statewide perspective, I am seriously concerned that should the currently amended zoning bill pass, the precedent set by our County in taking such a regressive step will have negative repercussions on clean-energy development/equity in the future, across Maryland and the region. Indeed, if a local government of Montgomery County’s stature and progressive reputation can turn its back on affordable community solar, other Maryland counties might likely follow suit.

I respectfully ask the Council to withdraw what has become a potentially harmful bill. Instead, I ask you to compromise by leveraging our progressive knowledge base and practical experience. In this way, the County can create a synergistic solution that advances clean energy, protects agriculture, creates jobs and improves our overall wellbeing. In short, the Council can provide the type of creative solution that we have come to expect from Maryland’s leading jurisdiction.


Kumar Barve

Note: Along with his letter, Barve supplied the following data table from Lazard Ltd., an international asset management firm, showing that ground-based solar energy is more price competitive with nuclear and fossil energy than rooftop solar.


Solar Industry Blasts “De Facto Moratorium” on Solar in Ag Reserve

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of the county council’s changes to a zoning text amendment that would allow solar panels in the agricultural reserve, the solar industry is now urging the council to defeat the legislation. The industry claims that two amendments adding soil restrictions and additional review requirements are tantamount to a “de facto moratorium” on solar in the reserve. One solar generator based in Kensington has already abandoned its projects in MoCo and industry representatives allege that others are also pulling out.

The letter to the council from the Coalition for Community Solar Access and the Chesapeake Solar and Storage Association is reprinted below.


Montgomery County Council
100 Maryland Avenue, 6th Floor
Rockville, MD 20850
RE: ZTA 20-01

Dear President Hucker and Councilmembers,

The Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) and Chesapeake Solar and Storage Association (CHESSA), formerly MDV-SEIA, thank the Montgomery County Council for its year-long consideration of the Zoning Text Amendment 20-01 (ZTA 20-01) and the opportunity to offer input on behalf of the solar energy industry. We appreciate the time and attention the Council has dedicated to this important issue and recognize that you sought to find balance in your approaches with the best of intentions. However, at this time and due to the amendments that were adopted by the Council on January 26, 2021, particularly related to restrictions on Class 2 soils and new conditional use requirements, CCSA and CHESSA regrettably submit this letter in strong opposition of the ZTA 20-01 as it will prevent reasonable solar development in Montgomery County.

The trade associations and our member companies presented information stating that either soil restrictions beyond Class 1 soils or conditional use would prevent reasonable development of community solar and AgNEM facilities in Montgomery County. As you know, the Maryland Community Solar Pilot Program seeks to provide clean, renewable energy to Maryland residents who do not otherwise have access to solar electricity, particularly with respect to low- and moderate-income families.

While we understand many on the Council believe that these two amendments were a “compromise,” seeking to find a “middle ground,” these two amendments unfortunately undermine the very purpose of the ZTA – which we believed was to allow solar development in a very limited portion of the AR Zone. Small scale solar energy development, such as Community Solar and AgNEM, is a complicated undertaking that entails many federal, state, and local hurdles. ZTA 20-01 as introduced was a relatively modest bill that included several safeguards and an aggregate cap. Over the course of the year-long process, we conceded to several additional amendments related to land conservation as well as other ancillary agricultural benefit requirements and safeguards. While most of the amendments prior to the January 26th decisions created additional cost and burdens on solar development, our members were willing to meet such challenges to promote renewable energy development in the County and work hand in hand with the agricultural industry.

However, the adoption of the class II soil restriction not only reduces the available acreage under the 2% cap by 70% but it eliminates development overall because it doesn’t take into account solar siting provisions required for construction. When these considerations are applied, as required by developers, the soil restriction in fact prevents ground-mounted solar development in the county. Furthermore, the extensive delays caused by the conditional use provisions and the inability to fast track the process will inevitably place community solar facilities in jeopardy of being fined for an extension and removal from the community solar pilot program. The increased costs associated with the court proceedings, duplicative planning board processes and subjectivity for approval, decrease the cost savings for community solar subscribers, defeating the intent of providing affordable clean energy to customers who have been unable to access it through other means. These are simply risks the industry cannot take.

Not only will the two amendments to ZTA 20-01 – Class 2 soil restrictions and conditional use – prevent Montgomery County from achieving its robust clean energy goals, these amendments, if the ZTA is enacted, will introduce considerable risk to the state’s community solar pilot program and reduce the customer benefits received by Maryland residents as a whole, including low- and moderate -income families. The recent actions taken by the Council place a de facto moratorium on solar development in the AR Zone and prevent Montgomery County from participating in the remaining three years of the Maryland Community Solar Pilot Program.

As a result of the votes taken on January 26th, several of our members have already started to cancel current land option leases with landowners and farmers in Montgomery County. Others have begun cancelling contracts with local vendors and consultants, including employment opportunities in the County. We have also heard from other subscriber organizations that have begun to cancel subscriber acquisition for Montgomery County residents to participate in community solar programs.

While we are always willing to find workable solutions to our climate challenges with the County, we respectfully but strongly urge that ZTA 20-01 be defeated in its current posture. Thank you for your work and we hope we can count on your support to vote no.

Leslie Elder, Mid-Atlantic Director
Coalition for Community Solar Access

David Murray, Executive Director
Chesapeake Solar and Storage Association

CCSA is a national coalition of businesses and nonprofits working together to implement best practices for all community solar markets. Our mission is to empower all Maryland households and businesses that seek home grown energy sources through community solar. We work with customers, utilities, local stakeholders, allies and policymakers to develop and implement best practices that ensure community solar programs provide a win-win-win solution. The solution begins with the customer and the land owners. Our members are solar industry leaders and are engaged at every step of development, ensuring these best practices are not theoretical but are applied and practiced. We have members headquartered in Maryland, including some members headquartered in Montgomery County, and others who were interested in investing here.

The Chesapeake Solar & Storage Association (CHESSA), formerly MDV-SEIA, is a regional trade association representing over 10,000 solar installers, developers, manufacturers, and other solar workers in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. It is the recognized state affiliate of the Solar Energy Industries Association.


Top Seventh State Stories, January 2021

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in January ranked by page views.

1. Raskin Chief of Staff Writes About Attack on the Capitol
2. Are Maryland Vaccine Deliveries Fair?
3. State to Counties: Vaccinate Private School Staff or Else
4. What Happened to White Flint?
5. MoCo Solar Power Company Throws in the Towel
6. How Does MoCo’s Vaccination Rate Compare to the Rest of Maryland?
7. State Legislators Call on Harris to Resign
8. Political Awards 2020
9. MoCo’s Hero
10. Mizeur Threatens to Run Against Harris

This is a pretty concise list of what has been on the minds of MoCo’s political community: the attack on the Capitol, Jamie Raskin, vaccines and the movement to throw out Andy Harris. The story on the solar zoning text amendment reflects a split among environmentalists that is bound to resurface on future issues. As for White Flint, which was also the top story in December, that article demonstrates a major challenge that MoCo will face as it emerges from the pandemic: how to rebuild its economy and not lose any more ground to the rest of the region. Economic competitiveness was a big issue before COVID and it will return to that pedestal as the next election approaches.


MoCo Solar Power Company Throws in the Towel

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.

Stefano Ratti

* 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”


Guest Blog on Stormwater Changes

By Timothy Male.

County Executive Leggett’s proposal to take a new approach to use contracts to deliver our clean water goals is an exciting opportunity for the county.  In 2015, Prince George’s County took a similar approach, signing a $100 million contract with the firm, Corvias.  Contrary to Seventh States’ coverage on this issue, this is not privatization – private companies already bid for and complete Montgomery County stormwater projects.  What Prince Georges does – and Montgomery County could do – is give those companies incentives to deliver projects faster and more creatively while creating local jobs, job training and benefits for schools.

In Prince George’s County, the partnership between the county and Corvias delivered more than 1,300 acres of impervious surface treatment in just 2 years and is on track to achieve the 2,500 acres – 500 more than established in the contract.  The partnership is important for its equity benefits as well.  The county set explicit goals for local workforce development, local subcontracting, and school-based projects that have educational benefits.  More than 80 percent of contracted funds are procured to locally owned, small, minority- or woman- owned businesses.  This form of social impact partnership ensures that environmental projects also deliver wins for disadvantaged communities.  What’s more, you can find all this data easily in Prince George’s County, through annual reports and an up-to-date online dashboard, because the company has a strong incentive (and requirement) to report back to the county on their progress.

Prince George’s County is not the only local jurisdiction building a record of success by taking an innovative approach to stormwater.  DC Water – Washington’s water utility – has won national accolades for creating one of the nation’s first “environmental impact bonds.”  In this case, DC Water raised private funding to pay for green infrastructure projects in northwest DC.  An important distinction in DC’s case is that the funding is a pay-for-success initiative, like many similar efforts launched by the Obama Administration.  If the projects work to store and filter stormwater, the foundation and company that loaned DC Water the money get paid back, but if the project doesn’t work then DC Water does not have to pay them back.  This is a great example of how government can help ensure that taxpayers (or ratepayers) don’t bear the risks from trying something new.  The ultimate goal of DC’s project is that, if it works, they will have an opportunity to use green infrastructure along with all the social and aesthetic values it produces in place of big underground pipes to move and treat stormwater.

Montgomery County has a chance to put together the best of DC and Prince George’s initiatives.  Build a program where the private sector takes the risk of failure and has incentives to exceed performance goals or deliver projects more quickly, like DC, but also add in social goals around workforce development, local training and environmental justice, like Prince George’s county.  In just a few years, instead of having a program that is over-budget and behind schedule, maybe we too would be getting national awards and would have stronger evidence that we are doing our part for Chesapeake Bay.

Timothy Male is the Executive Director of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and a former Takoma Park City Councilmember.


MoCo Green Democrats Announce Endorsements

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Green Democrats have announced their endorsements of the following candidates:

Governor – Rich Madaleno
Senator – Ben Cardin
Congress 3 – John Sarbanes
Congress 6 – Roger Manno
Congress 8 – Jamie Raskin
State Senate 16 – Susan Lee
State Senate 18 – Jeff Waldstreicher
State Senate 20 – Will Smith
State Delegate 14 – Pamela Queen
State Delegate 16 – Samir Paul, Marc Korman
State Delegate 17 – Kumar Barve
State Delegate 18 – Al Carr, Jared Solomon
State Delegate 19 – Vaughn Stewart, Brian Crider
State Delegate 20 – David Moon, Lorig Charkoudian
County Executive – Marc Elrich
County Council at-large – Bill Conway, Danielle Meitiv, Chris Wilhelm
County Council District 5 – Tom Hucker
Sheriff – Darren Popkin
MCDCC at-large male – Erwin Rose

The press release below lays out the club’s endorsement process.  Additionally, those who would like to read the candidates’ completed questionnaires can find them here.