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Press Releases - County Council

Councilmembers Riemer and Hucker propose powering more than 50,000 homes with solar

For Immediate Release: Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Zoning change supporting community solar could reduce
the County’s overall emissions by over four percent

ROCKVILLE, Md., Jan. 21, 2020 — Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Tom Hucker today introduced ZTA 20-01, Solar Collection Systems – AR Zone Standards, which would allow a targeted deployment of community solar projects on farms in the County’s Agricultural Reserve. Councilmember Craig Rice is a co-sponsor.

ZTA 20-01 would open up 1,800 acres (or about two percent) of the County’s 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve for community solar as a limited use. Currently, the zoning code prohibits community solar in the Agricultural Reserve.

“The climate emergency is now,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “Montgomery County needs to immediately substitute fossil fuel energy with clean energy on a large scale. That requires doing our part to generate solar locally, with all parts of the County contributing.”

“Every day, we see alarming evidence of climate change — from devastating wildfires and hurricanes to melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels,” Council Vice President Tom Hucker said. “We must use every tool at our disposal to cut our carbon emissions, and that means allowing community solar everywhere in Montgomery County.”

As a national environmental leader, Montgomery County has declared a climate emergency and committed to “100 percent elimination” of carbon emissions by 2035 (and 80 percent by 2027). Eliminating carbon emissions will require tackling their sources -- the emissions that come from fossil fuels used to power buildings and transportation, particularly. According to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, 51 percent of County emissions come from the energy used to power our buildings. Achieving a quicker reduction of buildings’ emissions requires transforming the sources of energy that our buildings use. That means increasing solar energy production.

Maryland’s community solar law allows solar providers to sell solar energy to larger groups of consumers -- groups of houses or apartment communities -- who can not or have not yet installed solar panels. Community solar farms are smaller than “utility scale” arrays; they only require 10-12 acres of land. They may produce up to two megawatts of electricity (or about 4,464,000 kWh’s), which replaces energy derived from fossil fuels in the electrical grid.

More specifically, each two-megawatt community solar project avoids the creation of 3,156 metric tons of carbon emissions. That is equivalent to the emissions created by 364 homes in one year. Extrapolating to the full buildout of 1,800 acres in the County’s Agricultural Reserve, the solar energy produced would provide enough clean energy for 54,631 homes. Zooming out a bit further, a full buildout under this ZTA would reduce approximately 473,434 metric tons of carbon emissions, or 4.4 percent of the County’s total emissions. That would be a sizable step toward meeting the County’s climate goals. By contrast, rooftop solar mandates for new construction would take decades to achieve the same level of energy substitution and emissions reduction.

The ZTA includes a number of provisions to support agriculture, including requirements that the ground under the panels have pollinator-friendly plants or is suitable for grazing and that soil and tree removal is minimized. It also has site size, setback, height and fencing requirements. The goal of this ZTA is to get solar deployed quickly while limiting its impact on the overall Agricultural Reserve. To achieve that balance, community solar is limited to two percent of the Agricultural Reserve (1,800 acres).

The text of the zoning text amendment can be viewed here:

The accompanying fact sheet can be viewed here:

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Release ID: 20-020
Media Contact: Ken Silverman 240-777-7964