Legal Landscape

Solar panel field aerial view surrounded by farmland. Photo Credit: Rumagia Bangun Setiawan
Solar Panel Farm on a sunny day with blue sky with a fence. Photo Credit: Gus Garcia

Maryland, New York, and Oklahoma are three states in three different regions with increased interest and pressure to install large solar installations on farmland, with private leases being drawn up without much research and guidance from the land-grant system. At the same time, the legal landscape in all three states is different.  This project will consider this varying legal landscape.

Maryland is a home-rule state with more concentrated power held by 23 counties. In comparison, New York is a home-rule state with more diffuse power held by 62 counties, 932 towns, 62 cities, numerous villages, and 10 Indian reservations. Unlike Maryland and New York, Oklahoma is a home rule state with limited power and a total of 77counties, many cities, and tribal jurisdictions. This presents a healthy dynamic for local land use planning around solar leases on farmland and provides opportunities for new and educational research comparisons.

In Maryland, under the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, renewable energy must increase to 50% of the state’s energy production by 2030, with solar comprising 14.5% (SB516, 2019). Recent court rulings in Maryland, however, limit counties’ approval of new solar projects (Washington County, 2019). In June 2019, the New York legislature passed the Climate and Community Protection Act, establishing a schedule for 100-percent elimination of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, potentially accelerating the development of solar in New York.

In a 2016 survey, Maryland producers identified solar energy agreements in the top six most critical legal issues for their farms. In a similar study in 2013, solar energy did not register as a top legal concern of Maryland producers. In 2016, nearly a dozen Extension offices in different New York counties hosted meetings in response to similar landowner questions about solar lease offers, despite the fact that the Extension offices had almost no research-derived, or even other land grant sourced, information available to respond. Demand for information is expected to increase as the demand for renewable energy sources increases. As states continue to push for more renewable sources at scales unable to be met by rooftop and community solar projects alone, they are their scope and approaching landowners for utility-scale solar projects.