Growing up on the Shore, I gained a deep love and respect for the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Today, as a solar business owner, I support the rights of local families and businesses who want to add solar panels to their properties to help them save on their electricity bills, reduce their impact on the environment, and even earn money off of their rooftop or from less productive acres of farmland.
But despite that value proposition and the fact that solar energy is growing rapidly across the country, this growth has stalled in Maryland because the state has surpassed the solar goals set out in its Renewable Portfolio Standard and the solar renewable energy credit market is oversupplied. As a result, installations have fallen. Over 800 solar jobs were lost in Maryland last year alone.
This year, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that will help to jump start that growth again by raising the solar goal, making it more affordable for property owners to install new solar panels, while also increasing the return on investment for solar energy systems that have already been installed.
Some Marylanders worry that increasing our solar goals will require sacrificing key agricultural lands. However, achieving the solar energy goal in front of the legislature would require less than half of one percent of Maryland’s total agricultural land. About 95 percent of agricultural land isn’t suitable for solar development due to a lack of electricity transmission infrastructure, land slope, and other constraints. This is why the vast majority of solar development in Maryland goes on rooftops.
For the small percentage of solar that is located on farmland, there are methods for building solar that benefit local ecosystems and farmers. Projects can incorporate pollinator-friendly habitat, supporting these vulnerable species. Native grasses can be planted under panels to benefit the soil for future agricultural use. Many counties require developers to plant trees and shrubs as living fences that create additional wildlife habitat, while blocking view of panels. Finally, Maryland solar farms are required to guarantee that land will be returned to agricultural uses at the end of a project’s life.
Solar energy development offers many benefits for Shore farmers and the agriculture industry. Furthering solar’s growth today can also help to protect the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem for future generations. The General Assembly should pass legislation to make solar more affordable and available to all.