correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Gov. Larry Hogan’s energy proposal. He wants Maryland to get 100 percent of its electricity from “clean” energy sources by 2040 — sources that don’t produce greenhouse gases. Those sources would not have to be renewable. The story has been corrected.
Maryland’s ambitious goal to derive half its electricity from renewable sources by the end of next decade has spawned a thorny question for policymakers: Where should new solar farms go?
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Wednesday took a step toward an answer, issuing an executive order the administration hopes will ultimately expedite the placement of up to 10,000 acres of solar farms — and steer them away from the fertile farmland Maryland has spent generations trying to protect.
Hogan’s order forms a task force that consists primarily of cabinet officials but also includes representatives from local government and the renewable energy industry.
The group must complete an initial report by December that will recommend new state laws on selecting renewable energy sites.
The administration also announced $4 million in grants to encourage solar and wind arrays on roofs, parking lots, contaminated brownfield sites and other existing infrastructure, with an eye toward erecting panels on state- and university-owned property.
In recent years, zoning fights have stalled renewable energy projects or led to moratoriums in several places in the state.
But Maryland’s highest court ruled last month that state energy regulators — and not local governments — have final say over the placement of solar and wind farms. The case decided by the Maryland Court of Appeals stemmed from a disagreement in rural Western Maryland over a 42,000-panel project on 86 acres in Washington County. Among other complaints, neighbors said the project would obstruct their views.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, said task force plans were underway before the court case was decided.
Hogan named a former Washington County commissioner, Greg Snook, to chair the task force.
The Democratic-majority General Assembly passed a law in 2016 requiring renewable sources to make up a quarter of the state’s electricity by the end of next year.
This year, the legislature increased the goal to 50 percent by 2030 and enhanced subsidies to help achieve it. Ten other states and D.C. also have laws with a threshold of 50 percent or higher, according to the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Hogan vetoed the 2016 legislation, citing the potential for rate increases, and was overridden by the General Assembly.
He also objected to the cost of the 2019 legislation, but he announced in May he would let it become law without his signature and wanted to see the state derive 100 percent of its electricity from “clean” energy by 2040. Clean energy does not produce greenhouse gases during the generation of electricity; renewable energy comes from resources — such as wind and solar — that will not run out.