Need help with Renewable Energy Siting? There’s a Tool to help


Resources and Tools

by Sylvia Mosser

SmartDG+ is shining a light on solar siting in Maryland, ushering in a new era on the wind [turbine]s of change by providing access to mapped data to help developers and local governments evaluate screening factors—like proximity to existing transmission lines—to select prime locations for their solar and wind projects.  The mapping tool is co-sponsored by DNR’s Power Plant Research Program (PPRP) and the Maryland Energy Administration.  Shawn Seaman with PPRP and Shannon Long  with Environmental Resources Management, which is contracted by the State to assist with the application, conducted a live demo of the tool at the recent Planning Director’s Roundtable on Friday, September 20.  Shawn explained to the rapt audience that SmartDG+ was developed because smart siting wasn’t working for solar and wind projects in Maryland. 

Shannon’s demo showed attendees how to: view transmission lines scaled with the appropriate land use, how to turn off the land use in the siting buffer to view other features outside of the buffer and explore and rule out sites; page through the available layers and cherry-pick those that seem important to our projects—e.g. brownfield sites, abandoned mines, high-density residential;  measure site acreage with the polygon tool; and add your own private layer that only your assigned viewers can access. After the demo, the Baltimore County Planning Director suggested that Shawn and Shannon should add the State Department of Assessments & Taxation (SDAT) property data to the tool’s available layers. Shawn and Shannon agreed that would be valuable information and will work to make it happen.  Another planning director asked “What about adding the local planning perspective about what the comprehensive plan and community input looks like for particular sites within planning jurisdictions?”  Shannon stated the tool includes each county’s land development regulations for solar and wind projects. Shawn also explained that level of local detail is not available in the tool at this time, but SmartDG+ is a work in progress and they are looking for suggestions to enhance usability.

Maryland is among a minority of states with deregulated electric utilities, since a bill (the Electric Customer Choice and Competition Act) passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1999.  The deregulation allows energy consumers in Maryland more freedom in choosing where we purchase our power, which should keep costs down. Unfortunately, that has not happened yet. On the upside, the deregulation allows consumers to choose to purchase their power from renewable energy sources like solar and wind.  But how do deregulation and energy costs relate to SmartDG+? The more solar and wind energy projects that are sited,with the help of SmartDG+.—the stronger the market competition for renewable energy and the lower price point for consumers (ideally). Other current drivers in Marylandthat will influence market competition for clean energy like solar and wind include the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019, Governor Hogan’s Clean and Renewable Energy Standard (CARES), and Executive Order 01.01.2019.09.  To learn more about Planning’s work with PPRP and renewable energy siting, contact Michael Bayer at michael.bayer@maryland.gov

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