Solar energy capturing structures above Chesapeake College parking lot on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Renewable Energy Solar energy capturing structures above Chesapeake College parking lot on Maryland's Eastern Shore. © Matt Kane / TNC

Stories in Maryland/DC

Powering the Future

We invited stakeholders from around the state to share diverse perspectives on renewable energy deployment.

The Nature Conservancy is focused on tackling climate change and recognizes the importance of accelerating the development of renewable energy in Maryland. At the same time, we are committed to renewable energy development that minimizes or eliminates negative impacts on traditional land uses.

TNC held listening sessions across the state to better understand the perspectives of stakeholders. Our findings point to the potential for a bright future for renewable development in Maryland.

Aerial view of Sideling Hill Creek Preserve.
Powering the Future We are committed to renewable energy development that minimizes or eliminates negative impacts on traditional land uses. © Kent Mason

Taking Meaningful Action

Recent international and US government climate reports have highlighted that time to take meaningful action on climate change is running out.

Maryland has taken bold steps to reduce emissions through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, mandated by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009. In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly updated the GGRP to require a 40% reduction in emissions from 2006 levels by 2030.

The GGRP encompasses more than 150 programs that work collectively to reduce or mitigate emissions. According to the GGRP, the greatest potential to reduce emissions in Maryland is through changes to electricity generation. To that end the Maryland General Assembly passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019, which will require 50% of electricity for consumers to come from renewable sources by 2030.

A recent study commissioned by the Maryland Public Service Commission found that increasing solar energy generation between 2018-2029 could create more than $3.8B of economic benefit and create over 20,000 jobs in Maryland. Moreover, a large majority of Marylanders support the growth of renewable energy sources, with 77% supporting solar and 72% supporting wind

However, as of December 2018, only 3.2% of electricity generated in the State of Maryland came from renewable resources. While that amount seems small, it has quadrupled—from 258 MW to over 1,000 MW or the equivalent to powering 110,000 homes—since 2015.  This development has been spurred by the state’s creation of incentives such as grants and tax credits for solar development as well as policy drivers like the renewable portfolio standard that increase demand for renewable energy.

Central Appalachian forests are the water tower for the mid-Atlantic, filtering the headwaters of rivers and streams that provide drinking water to Washington, DC.
Powering the Future Central Appalachian forests of western Maryland. © Kent Mason

Listening to Stakeholders

Although the increase in renewable energy contributes to emission reduction goals, its expansion comes with growing pains. The development of solar installations can require a large footprint of land. For example, a solar array to power 1,000 homes can require up to 32 acres of land.

In communities across Maryland, conflicts between solar energy development and other land uses, particularly agriculture, have arisen. However, these conflicts can be greatly reduced, if not avoided entirely, with better targeting of solar energy development towards areas that are not highly valued for other land uses.

TNC held three facilitated listening sessions in Frederick, Annapolis and Salisbury in October and November 2018. We invited representatives from key constituencies and sectors that are involved in and/or impacted by renewable energy development.

These sessions were open to any impacted or interested Maryland resident. We specifically invited participation from several sectors: local and state government, renewable energy developers, utilities, government, agriculture and conservationists. Our goal was to reflect the diverse perspectives shared by participants. We did not ask the participants to strive for consensus or develop recommendations.

The discussions at each session focused on four questions:

  1. What is your interest in renewable energy development and how does it impact you/your constituents?
  2. Where do you want to see renewable energy development? 
  3. What are the hurdles to the development of renewable resources in the areas discussed above? 
  4. How can we foster and incentivize innovation? What areas of innovation have you seen that excite you?
A great blue heron hunts for fish on the Chesapeake Bay.
Powering the Future We are committed to renewable energy development that minimizes or eliminates negative impacts on traditional land uses. © Matt Kane / The Nature Conservancy

Interest and Impacts

Drivers of interest in renewable energy included both perceived benefits and negative impacts from expanded deployment of renewables in Maryland.

Most stakeholders voiced an interest in potential economic benefits, including opportunities for income through the lease of private lands, job creation as well as cost savings from residential rooftop solar. Others were motivated by the potential to reduce emissions from energy production to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Connected to their interest in emission reduction is an interest in improved air quality, focused mostly on those impacts to human health caused by fine particulate matter.

Combustion of fossil fuels also negatively impacts water quality and supply. In the Chesapeake Bay, approximately one-third of nitrogen levels in the water (a nutrient that contributes to poor Bay health) come from deposition of nitrogen created in part by burning fossil fuels for electricity and transportation. Power plants also require a large amount of water for cooling and operations, negatively impacting local supply.

Participants highlighted negative impacts due to the amount of land required for renewable energy production and provided examples of lands that are directly in conflict with this kind of development.

The loss of prime productive agricultural lands was a major concern heard at all three listening sessions. We also heard concerns from participants around losing natural areas and their associated environmental services (e.g., clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat etc.). Cultural heritage and sense of place were also discussed at each session.

Other areas of concern included the feasibility of new development given the existing grid and associated security concerns. Increase in energy price was also a concern mentioned in every session.

Desireable Areas for Development

Each stakeholder identified several different physical locations across the landscape, based on their experience and that of the constituents they represent, that they would like to see renewable energy developed. These areas had something in common, they were marginalized or degraded lands.

Marginal lands have a purpose but also the capacity to be compatible with renewable development (e.g. public facilities, parking lots, public and transmission rights-of-way, etc.). Degraded lands (e.g. Brownfields, industrial sites, abandoned mine lands, unused agricultural lands, lands with poor soil quality, etc) were developed for other industries or purposes but may be compatible with renewable development.

These opportunities are spread across the state and land-use context from densely urban to rural. Participants often referred to these desirable areas for development as marginal lands, degraded or low-conflict areas.

Hurdles to Development

One of the largest hurdles identified was the lack of focus on marginal and low-conflict land as the priority for development.

Currently a regulated market drives renewable energy investments. This market often drives those investments to the cheapest and largest contiguous plots, which are often forested or used for agriculture. Discussions around reshaping how that market is regulated (incentives, siting criteria etc.) could shift the development to marginal, degraded or low-conflict areas.

There were a broad range of other hurdles that fell into the categories of economic, financing, engineering and community resistance to projects. By evaluating each of these hurdles with a shared outcome of driving development to marginal or low conflict lands we can accelerate renewable deployment to maximize benefit and reduce negative impacts.

Participants identified the critical role that state and local governments play in the process of removing hurdles. Although several hurdles were identified that fall outside of State and local jurisdictions, including, the reduction of federal tax credits, tariffs and international market costs of goods directly related to development.

Fostering and Incentivizing Innovation

There was a wide range of items identified here from MDOT’s work standardizing contracts and unlocking public lands to technological improvements to drive down price and increase efficiency of these resources. The importance of storage was also identified in all three sessions as an important technological hurdle to incorporate more renewables onto the grid in a sustainable manner.

Several participants referenced successful projects, with the Chesapeake College solar array referenced frequently. Participants appreciated how it was built over the parking lot and marginal field areas and didn’t impact the other land-uses on the site.

Innovation in the renewable energy space is a critical component of success and we need to continue to foster, publicize and incorporate these accomplishments into policy and regulations.

The sun sets behind grain silos near Cambridge MD.
Powering the Future We are committed to renewable energy development that minimizes or eliminates negative impacts on traditional land uses. © Adrian Jones, Integration and Application Network, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Results

Across all three sessions, the following three points consistently emerged from a large breadth of stakeholders.

  • A shared focus on developing renewable energy in marginal and low-conflict lands will allow Marylanders to take advantage of the many benefits of renewable energy while avoiding potential negative impacts.
  • Significant hurdles currently prohibit or disincentivize renewable energy development in desired locations (i.e., low-conflict lands). These hurdles provide opportunities to revise or create incentives and development drivers focused towards these types of lands. This could be done in many ways including, developing criteria for or designating specific areas comprised of or containing marginal and low conflict lands.
  • State and local governments play a critical role in assuring success and fostering continued innovation. Working to coalesce around a common goal of increasing renewable energy development focused on marginal and low-conflict lands will get the best outcome for the State.
  • Powering the Future

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    View the results and high level summary of stakeholder feedback on renewable energy deployment in Maryland.

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