Opinion: MoCo Council Should Vote No on Industrial Solar in the Agricultural Reserve

Ag Reserve
File photo

The following is an open letter to the Montgomery County Council.

Dear Councilmembers,

One of the primary functions of our county council is its right to set land use policy. The word right is significant. In the French language, the word for right is the same word for duty. (French 101 students will remember that homework duties were called les droits.)

When our council exercises its land use policy right, it must also exercise its duty to protect the land for its designated use. As Royce Hanson, former councilmember, former planning board chair and father of our Agricultural Reserve, informs us, the council’s first duty is to do no harm. Its second duty is to think about the consequences of any actions before acting.

With the proposed Zoning Text Amendment 20-01, this council has already failed in its duty to do no harm. The proposed ZTA has already induced speculators to increase the cost of farming by increasing the cost of land and land rents. Fortunately, this harm can be undone by keeping our reserve agricultural.

The proposed ZTA would violate the current master plan for our reserve by permitting large, industrial solar arrays. (Calling solar arrays solar “farms” doesn’t make them agricultural products any more than calling the Bowie Bay Sox and Potomac Nationals farm teams agricultural products.)

Industrial Solar (the large corporations involved in solar energy production and sales) seeks land in our Agricultural Reserve because it’s cheaper than installing solar on existing parking lots and buildings. The land in our reserve is cheaper because it is reserved for farming. Industrial Solar speculation has already increased the cost to farmers who rent, and, if this ZTA is approved, many more farmers will be priced out of farming.

I urge you to undo this harm by rejecting ZTA 20-01.

Climate disruption requires us to seek renewable energy, of which solar is an important part. But our climate response does not require us to break the reserve. Solar should be installed on our parking lots, buildings and other impervious surfaces which the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection informs us is more than 25,000 acres.

It belongs on those acres, not in our reserve, which has another important role to play in our climate plan. Whilst reducing the sources of carbon emissions is an essential part of our climate plan, carbon sequestration is as important. Good, rich soil upon which agriculture is dependent, and which farmers know how to build, sequesters carbon where it belongs: in the ground and the growing plants. Futhermore, forests are carbon sequestration work horses.

Rather than breaking our reserve, our council needs to encourage farmers to farm much more in our reserve so that our reserve can expand sources of food and fiber whilst sequestering carbon. A win-win.

Our council also needs to expand programs that connect our reserve farmers with our fellow county residents who are food insecure, including farm-to-food banks.

First, do no harm. The proposed zoning text amendment harms our reserve. Your duty is to vote no on ZTA 20-01; vote yes on preserving our reserve for agricultural purposes.

–JOSEPH HORGAN

The writer is a resident of Kensington.