County adds safe­guard for un­de­sir­able util­ity projects

Dorchester Star - - REGIONAL - By DUSTIN HOLT dholt@ches­pub.com Fol­low Caro­line/Dorch­ester Ed­i­tor Dustin Holt on Twit­ter @ Dustin_S­tarDem.

— The Dorch­ester County Coun­cil Tues­day, April 4, amended and ap­proved a tax bill to put a safe­guard in place to pro­tect the county from un­wanted util­ity projects.

The bill comes af­ter One En­ergy Sun­nee Bee re­cently with­drew its so­lar-panel project ap­pli­ca­tion from the county’s Board of Ap­peals. The project pro­posed putting so­lar pan­els on 400 acres owned by Kim­ber­lee and Blair Bisker near East New Mar­ket, along state Route 392, Linkwood Road and Richard­son Road.

One En­ergy, based in Seat­tle, made pre­sen­ta­tions be­fore the board of ap­peals but lo­cal res­i­dents voiced their dis­ap­proval of the projects be­cause the so­lar pan­els would be in fields along scenic by­ways.

The county coun­cil acted by ap­prov­ing the leg­is­la­tion 3-1, with coun­cil­man Rick Price as the lone “no” vote. The tax has al­ways been on the books, but the coun­cil added the lan­guage “util­i­ty­grade en­ergy gen­er­a­tion” to what could be taxed.

The bill will make an en­ergy busi­ness have to pay $2.44 per $100 of as­sessed value of their project per year if they want to build on a site in Dorch­ester County.

County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ricky Travers said the tax bill safe­guards the county from be­ing forced to al­low a project in the county. He said while the OneEn­ergy ap­pli­ca­tion was with­drawn, the com­pany could go be­fore the Mar yland Public Ser vice Com­mis­sion and re­quest a pre­emp­tion, which al­lows a project to go for­ward if the PSC de­ter­mines the project will greatly ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity.

“That means they could say, our power re­duc­tion is more im­por­tant than your zon­ing laws,” he said.

Travers said if the state re­quired a project, such as a so­lar project, to be con­structed, the county would at least ben­e­fit by hav­ing the util­ity com­pany pay the tax. He said for a project like OneEn­ergy’s the county could be bring­ing in about $1.5 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

“They might break pre­emp­tion, but they won’t break this tax bill,” he said. “This bill is to safe­guard our res­i­dents from un­wanted projects. It gives the county lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate if a project does meet our con­di­tions.

“That is why we have a PI­LOT (Pay­ment In Lieu of Taxes) be­cause when they come to us and say they want to put it in a spot that works, then we are here to work with them, but there is still go­ing to be a fee,” he said.

The tax bill does not ap­ply to land and busi­ness own­ers who have so­lar power on their prop­er­ties for busi­ness or per­sonal use.

“If a land own­ers pri­mary mis­sion for the so­lar field is to use the en­ergy for their prop­erty or prod­uct, the tax does not ap­ply be­cause the power is not util­i­ty­grade,” said Dorch­ester County Man­ager Jeremy Gold­man.

“The big­gest con­cern all of us had was we did not want some­thing to come into an area that im­pacted the cit­i­zens, and we ended up with a rock-throw­ing con­test, and no ne­go­ti­a­tion abil­ity, and it was forced on us,” said coun­cil­man Don Sat­ter­field. “This gives us, the county coun­cil, the abil­ity to con­trol, with a PI­LOT, where spe­cific projects go. It was most im­por­tant that we did not have an impact on cit­i­zens that was neg­a­tive.”

Price said he voted against the leg­is­la­tion be­cause he is against any new tax for county cit­i­zens.

“I have a record of op­pos­ing any new taxes,” he said. “I just feel that this, with re­gard to it be­ing con­sid­ered as a spe­cial ex­cep­tion and not part of the cur­rent com­pre­hen­sive plan that it needs to be ad­dressed more so in the com­pre­hen­sive plan with these so­lar ad­di­tions.”

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