Many local goverments seek to protect scenic views as part oflocal solar facility siting ordinances.
Note: to access the county codes discussed in the following case study, we recommend that you access the Smart DG+ County Zoning Guide at dnr.maryland.gov/pprp/Pages/smartdg.aspx.
Jurisdiction: Queen Anne's County
Type: Utility-Scale, Undeveloped Land
Zoning Used: Overlay District
The county asked the solar industry to identify the area of the county of interest to them. The solar industry identified the area two miles from the 69-kV transmission line that extends north to south in the county. Using the Smart DG+ tool from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Power Plant Research Program (PPRP), county staff created an overlay map to inform its public outreach effort. One benefit of the map is that it showed the public that not all lands in the county were of interest to the solar industry (such as the areas adjacent to 34.5 kV transmission lines).
Next, the county subtracted all restricted lands from that area, including easements, wetlands, etc.
Given that most of Queen Anne's County has prime farmland (Class I and II soils), the county wanted to identify a method that could limit the potential loss of farmland in the county. The county chose a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program, up to a cumulative total of 2,000 acres, that provides solar developers the option for negotiated payments in lieu of taxes. After those 2,000 acres are developed, new solar infrastructure would only have the option to be taxed.
Also, in response to concerns from residents regarding impacts to scenic views, the county required aggressive landscaping, berms, and setbacks (75 feet from any property line; 100 feet from any road or right of way, unless a larger setback is required; and 300 feet from any single family, cluster, or sliding scale lot). After five years, the landscaping must completely hide the solar panels from public view. Additional county landscape requirements for utility-scale solar projects include:
Including all stakeholders (e.g., concerned residents, solar industry) during policy development allowed the county to identify the different needs. With this information, the county shaped a policy that best met the interests of as many groups as possible.
Queen Anne's County created a Utility Scale Solar Array Overlay District.1 For a map of the overlay, see qac.org/DocumentCenter/View/9333/USSA-Overlay-Map?bidId=. The overlay covers all county lands "that are within two miles of electric transmission lines with a capacity of at least 69KV...."2
A "Utility Scale Solar Array" is defined as "a commercial production facility that converts sunlight into electricity, via photovoltaics or various other solar technologies on typically ground-mounted systems, for the purpose of wholesale or retail sale of generated electricity to a utility company and off-site customers."3
Solar panels on poultry houses help reduce consumption of productive farmland for energy production.
They are prohibited on land covered by a conservation or open space easement, "on a parcel within a greenbelt designation or a municipal growth area as identified in the 2010 Queen Anne's County Comprehensive Plan as amended or a Queen Anne's County municipality's community plan," and "on a parcel reconfigured through administrative subdivision for the purpose of adding additional acreage to the area available for Utility Scale Solar Arrays."4 If the Public Service Commission (PSC) requires it, solar arrays must also obtain a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN).
Solar arrays are allowed only in the Agricultural (AG) District and Countryside (CS) District, as conditional uses. Section S of § 18:1-95: Additional standards for specified conditional uses apply to solar arrays.
The county's purpose and goals for the ordinance are described in § 18:1-95, Section S as follows:
"Purpose and intent. The purpose of this subsection is to establish guidelines for the siting of a utility-scale solar array and accessory equipment, buildings or facilities that generate, maintain, operate, manage, store, distribute and transmit power, other than facilities designed for small-scale solar array applications.
(a) The goals of this subsection are to:
 Protect existing residential areas and land uses from potential adverse impacts, while accommodating utility-scale solar arrays in the County's Solar Array Overlay Map.
 Encourage the configuration of solar arrays so that adverse visual impacts are minimized through careful design, siting, and landscaping screening and buffering.
 Encourage the configuration of solar arrays so that the health, safety, and general welfare of the public are protected."
A special application is presented to the Planning Commission at a public meeting. The Commission has 60 days to submit its report and recommendations to the Board of Appeals. The application must include submission requirements, such as:
If the Planning Commission approves the plan, then the Commission recommends that the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOA) grant a conditional use. If the conditional use is granted, the applicant continues the process by developing a fully engineered Major Site Plan. In addition to the information required on the Major Site Plan all standards found in the Queen Anne's County Zoning & Subdivision Regulations § 18:1-95.S. must be addressed. The Major Site Plan is reviewed and must be approved by the Queen Anne's County Planning Commission. The Planning Commission will review the plan to ensure all required information is provided and that any conditions that were placed on the Concept Plan Approval, Planning Commission Recommendation and/or Conditional Use have been addressed.
In the Agricultural (AG) and Countryside (CS) Districts, the dimensional and bulk requirements for nonresidential uses also apply to solar arrays.5
Solar power installation on the roof of a farm market.
1 Code of Public Local Laws of Queen Anne’s County, Chapter 18 – Land Use and Development, Article III: Establishment of Zoning Districts, § 18:1-9 Zoning Districts Enumerated.
2 § 18:1-39 (B).
3 Queen Anne’s County, MD / Part III: Local Regulations, Chapter 18 AppAppendix a: Glossary ecode360.com/32797459?highlight=solar,solar%20array&searchId=5707495712379074#32797459.
4 Code of Public Local Laws of Queen Anne’s County, Chapter 18 – Land Use and Development, Article V: District Standards § 18:1-38.1 Utility Scale Solar Array (USSA) District.
5 Queen Anne’s County Code § 18:1-14.E.2 and § 18:1-15.E.2, respectively.
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