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Tax breaks would give low income communities access to solar power

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Joel McCord
/
Maryland State House

Environmental advocates are pushing measures addressing climate change during this General Assembly session. One of those, aimed at expanding solar energy in low income neighborhoods was before a Senate committee Tuesday.

The bill would exempt from local property taxes solar projects on rooftops, parking lots, or brownfields that are designed to serve low to moderate income communities.

Lynn Heller, board chair of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, told the Budget and Taxation Committee most solar projects aren’t built in those communities, the ones hardest hit by climate change, because it’s too expensive. Eliminating the property taxes would encourage the development of those projects and at the same time reduce the residents energy bills without doing significant damage to local revenues.

She pointed to a project underway in the East Madison neighborhood of Baltimore, where a third of the families live below the federal poverty line. She said it would save the residents a total of $35,000 annually on their energy bills, while costing the city about $11,000 in tax revenue.

“Eleven thousand dollars in foregone taxes is not a lot for the city of Baltimore,” she said. “But $35,000 in additional spending money would be significant for the neighborhood.”

Sen. Sarah Elfreth, the Annapolis Democrat sponsoring the bill, called it a “bit of a twofer” that would help the state meet its renewable energy goals while helping lower income Marylanders with their energy bills.

It would be particularly important in her district, which has the second most affordable housing units in Maryland outside Baltimore City, and where many of them are being redeveloped, she said.

“It would be a shame, or a sin, as my mother would say, if we did not also think about the opportunities here to increase our renewable energy usage and benefit those communities that needed the most,” she told the committee.

Kevin Kinnally, legislative director for the Maryland Association of Counties, said his organization favors the bill, but local governments should have more of a say.

“Maryland has a long history of using the personal property tax to incentivize important policy goals, such as business development,” he said. But normally, it lets local governments decide which of those incentives to implement locally. That way they can control the amount of revenue that they're willing to forego for that benefit.”

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