Why I voted “no”

When I introduced the “farm + solar” zoning change with Council President Tom Hucker back in January 2020, my goal was to build a cornerstone of Montgomery County’s climate action policy.

By allowing less than 2% of the land in the County zoned “Agricultural Reserve” (which is itself one-third of all land in the County) to be used for privately funded community solar projects, the proposal would have generated enough clean energy to power more than 50,000 homes, while continuing agricultural practices on that land.

Regrettably, with opposition fueled by the County Executive, a majority of Councilmembers adopted two amendments to ZTA 20-01 that are so restrictive that the proposal may result in very little if any solar.

As a result, I voted “no,” because I am concerned that rather than a small step forward for Montgomery County, it may be a large step backward for Maryland. Consider these words from Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which along with the Sierra Club and Poolesville Green strongly supported the original plan:

Clean energy has to go somewhere. If liberal Montgomery County can’t reach a sensible compromise policy, imagine the push back from Republican county and state elected leaders who think climate change is a hoax anyway.

Keep Reading >>

Here’s how Montgomery County can lead on climate change

Dear resident:

Years ago the County Council made a consequential decision to set aside nearly one-third of all land in our County for agriculture, through restrictive zoning.

Today I am calling on our Council to take a new and bold step forward in the fight against climate change — a crisis that Joe Biden highlighted in his convention speech — by revising the zoning code to allow the blending of solar arrays with farmland on a small portion of the Agricultural Reserve.

Farm Solar (ZTA 20-01)

Farming and solar can go together. Elsewhere, visionary farmers are pioneering “dual use” of land beneath solar arrays by Keep Reading >>

NIST testing new technology on energy efficiency right here in Montgomery County

Did you know that buildings consume as much as 1/3 of all our energy? We need to reduce energy consumption in our residential and commercial buildings if we are going to address climate change and the problems it creates, like Superstorm Sandy.  

Right here in Montgomery County, the federal research agency NIST has built the country’s premier lab to test home energy efficiency technology. Using Obama Administration stimulus funds, the lab is a house designed to consume zero total energy in an environment that replicates the energy consumption of an average American family. The purpose of the lab is to allow NIST to install new technologies that are developed in the private sector or public sector and test their results for energy consumption.

Recently, I took a tour of the lab at the suggestion of not only the director of NIST, Patrick Gallagher, but also Marilyn Balcombe, with the Gemantown Gaithersburg Chamber of Commerce. A local Montgomery County company, Therrien Waddell, was the prime construction contractor for the job and we are very proud of their remarkable work.  

NIST Labs’ Energy Efficiency Home Tour – October 31st 2012 

As I took the tour, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman next to me, Chris White. It turns out Chris is a NIST employee who worked on the project. In addition to his work at NIST, he is an avid beekeeper and keeps proactive on the zoning code rewrite issue (trying to ensure the new zone for the county does not prevent beekeepers). He is also a 15 year veteran of the volunteer fire department, station 11. We talked about beekeeping, the zoning code rewrite, the volunteer service, and home energy efficiency.  

If you wonder what it is that moves me about serving as your County Council member, this experience sums it up. In fact, we have had significant progress on other initiatives that focus technology and constituent engagement, so definitely stay tuned for more announcements next week….

Building a better electric grid for Montgomery County

This week at committee we discussed a bold new initiative to address Montgomery County’s electricity crisis: a demonstration project for a new kind of electricity grid right here in Montgomery County. The demonstration project concept was proposed by County Council President Roger Berliner and has some support from the Governor.

The idea is as follows. Montgomery County Government will work with the PSC, Pepco and a team of outside experts to design a new grid serving tens of thousands of Montgomery County residents. The experts come from a team of utility sector thinkers who are working with municipalities around the country to revolutionize how we manage power at the grid level. We heard from this team at the Council committee.

The demonstration grid would involve Pepco in making enhancements that Pepco might not have made, with an eye towards gradually transforming the entire grid in Montgomery County.

The new grid would have different kinds of switches and infrastructure to enable it to be repaired more quickly, user energy more efficiently, and even draw from locally-generated power (solar or geothermal, for example).

Grids like this do exist, particularly in jurisdictions that have publicly-owned power. We have an investor-owned grid (Pepco). While we are pushing forward on public power, we need to work with Pepco now because there are ways we can achieve better service by working together.

In order to implement this project we will need support from the PSC and the Governor, the County Executive and Council, and collaboration from Pepco.

At the same time, this does not distract from the shorter term game plan that has been outlined by the PSC for how to force Pepco to improve its service. That plan is as follows: The PSC has required Pepco to reach improved reliability standards. If Pepco does not reach those improved standards, it will be fined and it will also not receive certain rate hikes; and the PSC may reduce the rate of return that Pepco is allowed to charge. Additionally, Pepco will not be allowed to charge rate payers for investments that it should have been making when it was rewarding investors and neglecting its infrastructure.

That policy or regulatory agenda for the PSC is our best shot to force Pepco to improve over the short term. I think this demonstration project is a fantastic opportunity to transform our grid over the long term and give residents not only a higher quality of service, but also a grid that can serve as a platform for innovation in service delivery, customer control, environmental responsibility, and sustainability.