County to build so­lar ar­rays

Ad­min build­ing, High­lands com­mu­nity tar­geted

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JA­COB OWENS

jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

— The county is poised to join the ranks of nu­mer­ous lo­cal agen­cies and busi­nesses that have em­braced so­lar ar­rays un­der a new plan that looks to build two dif­fer­ent ar­rays at county-owned prop­er­ties.

Steve Kuhls, county fa­cil­i­ties man­ager, told the Ce­cil County Coun­cil on Tues­day that the county signed a power pur­chase agree­ment (PPA) with So­lar City, one of the na­tion’s largest so­lar ar­ray builders, al­beit one that has not worked on lo­cal projects be­fore, last sum­mer. The plan aims to build ar­rays at the Ce­cil County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing off Route 40 and at the High­lands Spray Ir­ri­ga­tion Site lo­cated in the High­lands com­mu­nity near the north­ern Delaware border.

Those ar­rays would join three built by Ce­cil County Pub­lic Schools, one by Mt. Aviat Acad­emy, one by the town of Elk­ton and one by IKEA in the county in re­cent years.

“(So­lar City) is on a na­tional-scale with in-house

ELK­TON

ex­per­tise and world-class tech­nol­ogy,” he noted of the San Ma­teo, Calif.-based com­pany. “In fact, they re­cently pur­chased their own man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Buf­falo, N.Y.”

What sets So­lar City apart from other busi­nesses is that it is an all-in-one op­er­a­tion, pro­vid­ing fi­nanc­ing, in­stal­la­tion and main­te­nance, Kuhls said. So­lar City was one of only two re­spon­dents to the county’s re­quest for pro­pos­als — the other be­ing Sun Power, of San Jose. The busi­ness that has prin­ci­pally han­dled other county projects, Stan­dard So­lar, of Rockville, typ­i­cally works with fi­nancier SunEdi­son to build its projects.

Kuhls re­ported that the PPA is a 20-year con­tract with no up­front cost to the county other than the un­used land. A fixed cost of 6 and 6.1 cents per kilo­watt power pro­duced would be set for the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing and High­lands sites, re­spec­tively, over the course of the con­tract. Kuhls re­ported that the county’s cur­rent av­er­age en­ergy cost is about 10.5 cents per kilo­watt hour through a con­sor­tium that ne­go­ti­ates en­ergy prices for coun­ties.

On So­lar City’s end as the fi­nancier, it re­ceives valu­able fed­eral tax cred­its and reaps the dif­fer­ence be- tween the ne­go­ti­ated and mar­ket rates on ex­cess elec­tric­ity sent back to the grid.

The High­lands site is 32 acres and So­lar City plans to in­stall more than 8,300 ground-mounted so­lar pan­els there cov­er­ing about 10 acres. The first-year es­ti­mated en­ergy pro­duc­tion at that site is more than 4 mil­lion kilo­watt hours, re­sult­ing in a first-year sav­ings of about $180,000. Con­struc­tion is hoped to be­gin in De­cem­ber and com­pleted in July.

At the Ce­cil County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing, the plan calls for in­stalling more than 1,600 ground- and roof­mounted so­lar ar­rays on 1.4 acres of land to the north of the build­ing. The firstyear es­ti­mated en­ergy pro­duc­tion at that site is more than 726,000 kilo­watt hours, re­sult­ing in a first-year sav­ings of about $33,000. Con­struc­tion is hoped to be­gin as soon as the end of the month with com­ple­tion by the end of the year.

The fenc­ing off of con­struc­tion zones dur­ing an eight-week time­frame may limit some of the rear park­ing at the fa­cil­ity that houses the county’s de­part­ments, but won’t in­hibit any en­trances.

With 68 dif­fer­ent elec­tri­cal ac­counts in four dif­fer­ent clas­si­fi­ca­tions, Kuhls said county-run fa­cil­i­ties are ex­pected to con­sume about 10 mil­lion kilo­watt hours of elec­tric­ity cost­ing about $1 mil­lion this fis­cal year, mean­ing these projects would even­tu­ally save about 20 per­cent of the county’s elec­tri­cal costs.

Coun­cil­man Ge­orge Patchell noted that as the county’s ne­go­ti­ated power costs rise over the com­ing years, how­ever, the per­cent­age of sav­ings will in­crease as well.

Kuhls did note, how­ever, that the High­lands site has some is­sues, in­clud­ing a lack of three-phase elec­tric ser­vice which would be re­quired as well as ease­ments from three prop­erty own­ers for the pro­posed route of elec­tri­cal trans­mis­sion lines. To mit­i­gate the im­pact of those is­sues, the PPA al­lows for up to $350,000 in elec­tri­cal ser­vice up­grades paid for by So­lar City.

Should the costs of up­grades ex­ceed $350,000, the PPA would al­low So­lar City to rene­go­ti­ate the price per kilo­watt hour. County at­tor­ney Ja­son Al­liance told the coun­cil that he does not be­lieve the costs of ease­ments should ap­proach that amount, when com­pared to prior ex­am­ples, and ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions have been made with the prop­erty own­ers.

Coun­cil­man Alan McCarthy asked the as­sem­bled of­fi­cials what the cap­i­tal cost of the project was if the county were to do it alone, to which they didn’t have an im­me­di­ate an­swer. He also asked whether So­lar City would up­grade the ar­ray as im­proved tech­nol­ogy be­came avail­able. While So­lar City won’t up­grade the so­lar pan­els for free, it does have min­i­mum pro­duc­tion re­quire­ments that it will have to meet through­out the con­tract, of­fi­cials said.

Coun­cil­man Dan Sch­neck­en­burger in­quired as to why the ar­ray was lim­ited to 10 acres at the High­lands site when three times that much is avail­able. Of­fi­cials re­sponded that any larger of a project would re­quire ap­proval from the Mary­land Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion, which could be a lengthy and cum­ber­some process.

“We don’t want to be­come what is des­ig­nated as a ‘so­lar sup­plier,’” Al­li­son said. “Then we would be re­quired to go through the PSC. So there’s a limit on how much we can gen­er­ate.”

Sch­neck­en­burger also asked if there were any other fa­cil­i­ties or coun­ty­owned land where more ar­rays could be built to cap­ture more sav­ings.

“I’m a big lover of us­ing the 12 acres at the (new Ce­cil County An­i­mal Ser­vices shel­ter off Route 213) or some por­tion of that,” Kuhls said.

Sev­eral coun­cil mem­bers in­quired about plac­ing so­lar ar­rays on or near the Ce­cil County De­ten­tion Cen­ter, but of­fi­cials noted that en­vi­ron­men­tal con­straints, such as crit­i­cal ar­eas and flood­plains, ex­ist at that site. More sites would be an­a­lyzed for ap­pro­pri­ate use though.

While he was sup­port­ive of the growth of so­lar projects, Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Robert Hodge ad­vised ev­ery­one to be cau­tious when es­ti­mat­ing po­ten­tial sav­ings.

“There prob­a­bly will be sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings up­front and it will sta­bi­lize our elec­tri­cal costs, but our elec­tric bills will prob­a­bly still go up over time be­cause the bills are made up of more than power costs,” he said. “There’s a dis­tri­bu­tion cost, there’s taxes and there’s a lot of ex­tra garbage on elec­tric bills that we won’t be able to con­trol.”

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

Two more so­lar ar­rays, like this one in Bay View, will be built for Ce­cil County at sites in the Elk­ton area over the next year, fur­ther ex­pand­ing so­lar en­ergy pro­duc­tion here.

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