HoCo Expands Solar Opportunities for Residents, Businesses and Farms

May 2021

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball highlighted transformative new solar legislation that allows solar in all zones across the county including on agriculturally preserved land. The Howard County Council unanimously passed the new regulations in Council Bill (CB) 17-2021 in May, 2021. Photos from the event can be found here and video here.

“This legislation expands business opportunities for commercial and industrial districts and for our many farms and preserved agricultural property,” said Ball. “Howard County has more than 300 farms and has preserved 20,000 acres of agricultural land. Imagine for a moment the clean energy and power we can generate if just a fraction of this land is used for solar, not to mention the benefits it brings to our local businesses and environment. Together we can continue to create a cleaner and more sustainable environment, protect our planet, and power our future.”

CB 17-2021 expands opportunities for solar within the county to:

•              Allow rooftop solar collectors in all zoning districts

•              Allow ground-mount Commercial Solar Facilities (CSFs) in more zoning districts, specifically allowing ground mounted solar in commercial and industrial districts

•              Add a preliminary and final review by the Agricultural Preservation Board to allow input on the placement and other details of the project

•              Limit the size of ground mount commercial solar facility on Agricultural Land Preservation Program (ALPP) properties

•              Requires that ground mount solar facilities on ALPP provide pollinator or native grass habitats, grazing for livestock, or other ecologically enhancing alternative under the solar array

“Reducing plastics and greenhouse gas emissions has always been at the forefront of my legislative agenda. Earlier this year, I was thrilled to vote in favor of expanding solar opportunities to residents and specifically commercial and industrial districts throughout the county,” said County Council Vice Chair Opel Jones. “As community leaders, it is imperative we continue to work towards a cleaner environmental ecosystem for our future leaders!”

This expansion of solar puts Howard County at the forefront in Maryland in its fight against climate change, and puts the County on track to meet its renewable energy goals, including:

•              Receive 20 percent of its power for local government operations from renewable sources, especially solar power.

•              Reduce petroleum fuel consumption in its fleet by 20 percent, by improving the average fuel economy of its fleet, reducing idling, and increasing the number of electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

•              Cut energy use in its facilities by 25 percent, well beyond the required 15 percent reduction, making Howard County the first jurisdiction to go beyond state requirements.

“This is what fighting climate change actually looks like,” said Joshua Feldmark, Director of the Office of Community Sustainability. “Doing the hard work of combing through rules and regulations, working with all invested parties and striking agreements that allow for solar across the board while protecting other key environmental interests.”

“In drafting this legislation, we considered the obstacles in our existing code that have made it difficult for solar permitting and sought to clear those hurdles and create a solar-friendly permit process for Howard County,” said Amy Gowan, Director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

“We see this solar opportunity as a win-win for all – we are able to provide solar energy for the county, while helping to sustain and support our continued farm operations,” said Ricky Bauer, owner of Rural Rhythm Farm.

“We are very excited that Howard County is moving ahead with its long-term commitment to local solar power,” said Liz Feighner of HoCo Climate Action. “We are in a climate emergency and must move quickly from fossil fuels to clean energy in order to avert the worst climate catastrophes.”