County adds safeguard for undesirable utility projects
— 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 He said while the OneEnergy application was withdrawn, the company could go before the Mar yland Public Ser vice Commission and request a preemption, which allows a project to go forward if the PSC determines the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.”