Power Plant Research Program Technical Assistance and Factors for Local Governments to Consider When Developing Ordinances

Solar Developer Constraints

Utility-scale solar facilities can become cost prohibitive in areas that are farther away from existing transmission lines. Other constraints may include local zoning restrictions, such as buffer requirements, although siting restrictions can be overruled by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC). Also, a utility-scale solar facility might not move forward even if a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) is issued. For example, the availability of injection capacity from nearby electricity transmission lines can halt a project. Determining the availability of injection capacity is a slow process, and the outcome can change as electrical infrastructure is modified and as competing solar facilities connect to the grid.

PPRP's Smart DG+ tool helps local governments and developers identify the location of electrical transmission lines and adjacent areas where utility-scale solar facilities have the potential to be financially feasible. The tool also helps developers learn more about local zoning restrictions (see below).

PPRP Technical Assistance and Smart DG+ Tool

Local governments seeking assistance with understanding and getting involved in the CPCN process, obtaining an opportunity to conduct site visits of proposed utility-scale solar facilities, answering technical questions related to utility-scale solar facilities and the utility industry, and getting ideas for local solar facility siting ordinances can contact PPRP for assistance. See dnr.maryland.gov/pprp/Pages/contact.aspx

PPRP is also available to discuss anticipated licensing conditions and explain likely recommendations for approval or disapproval for proposed utility-scale solar facilities.

PPRP and the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) sponsor Smart DG+, a free, online, map-based screening tool. The tool is intended to help developers and government officials identify potential areas for locating new wind and solar projects in Maryland. See dnr.maryland.gov/pprp/Pages/SmartDG.aspx.

To create the Smart DG+ tool, PPRP evaluated electrical lines throughout Maryland, gathered publicly available data on barriers to project construction, and met with county and utility officials to discuss local priorities and relevant policies. The mapping application displays important geographic data, such as the location of transmission lines that local governments could consider when developing or adjusting local solar facility siting ordinances. To ensure the accuracy of county-level information in the Smart DG+, PPRP reaches out annually to county officials to confirm that all information in the tool is accurate and up-to-date. The Smart DG+ zoning guide allows local governments to identify details of each government's approach to utility-scale solar facility siting. See dnr.maryland.gov/pprp/Documents/CountyZoningGuide.pdf.

Best Practices to Ensure Compatibility with Military Installations

The U.S. Department of Defense's (DoD) Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse works with industry to overcome risks to national security while promoting compatible domestic energy development. Energy production facilities and transmission projects involving tall structures, such as wind turbines, solar power towers and panels, and electrical transmission towers, may negatively impact military testing and training operations.

Solar systems may present hazards to aircraft and air traffic control tower operations due to possible glint or longer duration glare reflecting off panels. In addition, the electromagnetic interference from electrical transmission lines can impact critical DoD testing activities. Technical studies, including an overview of best practices for ensuring compatibility of solar facilities with military installations, are available through the library section of the Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse webpage at: acq.osd.mil/dodsc/about/library.html.

Stakeholder Involvement

In developing strategies for siting location and other standards and requirements for these facilities, local governments must strive to balance multiple community needs, including environmental, viewshed, agricultural, cultural, and land preservation goals, when establishing preferred locations and other standards and requirements for utility-scale solar facilities. Involving multiple stakeholders, including state and local advocates and/or subject matter experts for each of the above goals, as well as the applicant, property owners and other residents, can help local governments identify all relevant issues and concerns. By completing this type of comprehensive research, the local government can prepare an ordinance that addresses as many of the issues and concerns as possible and can provide complete information to inform elected officials' decision-making regarding the ordinance.

Involving stakeholders also can be helpful when a local government is participating as an intervening party in the CPCN process. Similar to the siting ordinance development process, stakeholder involvement when participating as an intervening party can help the local government identify the most important local issues and concerns for consideration by the public utility law judge.

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