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Washington County to get more solar power

May 04, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County is finalizing a deal with a solar power company that could make county government one of the first in the United States to generate all the power it uses on its own property, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said this week.

Under the proposed agreement, the Chevy Chase, Md., company EPG Solar would install solar panels at the county's Forty West and Resh Road landfills, EPG Solar owner Robert Babcock confirmed Friday.

The county would lease the land to EPG Solar, which would then build the solar array and sell the power it generates back to the county, Babcock said.

The project would be built in phases. When completed, it would generate about 25 megawatts of power — enough to offset all of county government's power usage, Babcock said.

He said the deal would save the county money, but neither he nor Murray would discuss the terms of the lease or the power rates until the contract is finalized, which they expect to happen any day.

State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said in a March 7 online blog post that the county's contract with EPG Solar would bring the county almost $43,000 per acre leased, or more than $515,000 per year in revenue.

In addition to the lease revenue, the county would benefit from the property tax on the solar equipment, Babcock said.

The first phase of the project would be built at Forty West Landfill on land designated for future landfill cells that won't be needed for at least 30 years, he said.

That first phase will generate about 4 megawatts — or 4 million watts — of power, he said.

"I don't anticipate we'll be generating any power on this site until the middle of next year," Babcock said.

The rest of the system would be phased in over the following three to four years and would include some solar panels on capped landfill cells at the closed Resh Road landfill, he said.

"Landfills are an ideal place to put it because you can't really use them for anything else, the impact to the landfill is minimal, the stuff sits right on top, and one of the big things about solar is you need a lot of space," Babcock said.

Solar power is 100 percent clean, renewable energy, generated with no moving parts, toxins or water use, he said.

"It is about as environmentally benign as you can be, and we are also putting to productive use an area that wouldn't necessarily be in productive use," he said.

"We're creating value from trash, really — at least, from the tops of trash."

EPG Solar is a small developer of solar power projects on the East Coast, with a significant portfolio in Massachusetts, Babcock said.

The county project would be the company's first solar project in Maryland, but as the state ramps up its minimum requirements for solar-power generation, company officials expect arrangements like this one to become more common.


Second solar project

The project will be the second major solar-generation project planned for the Hagerstown area.

Last year, the Maryland Board of Public Works voted to lease 250 acres at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown to Maryland Solar LLC for a "Maryland Solar Farm" that will generate up to 20 megawatts of power.

That lease started at about $32,000 a year, and was to rise 3 percent in the fourth year of the lease and another 3 percent every other year after that.

Shank has pushed for legislative oversight of future renewable energy leases, saying the state could have done better than the terms of its Maryland Solar lease.

In his March blog post, Shank used the county's deal with EPG Solar as an example of a better deal.

"When one company in Maryland pays almost $43,000 per acre in ground rent and benefits to generate solar power, while another pays only $128, there is obviously a discrepancy in the contract approval process," Shank wrote.

"The Maryland General Assembly should have the ability to oversee the contract process to ensure that the public gets the best deal."

Shank's bill seeking legislative oversight was defeated in a Senate committee.

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