Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley attends groundbreaking ceremony for largest solar power array in state

July 07, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, center in blue shirt, breaks ground with others during the solar farm ground breaking Saturday on Roxbury Rd.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Under a broiling sun, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley joined a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday for what will be the largest solar power array in the state — and one of the biggest on the East Coast — when it is completed later this year.

The 100-degree temperature was “a reminder from Mother Nature that the sun is our most abundant resource,” O’Malley told an audience of about 100 guests sitting inside an air-conditioned tent before the ceremony.

Maryland has set a goal to produce 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources — solar, wind and geothermal — by 2022, O’Malley said.

“There is no other state that has declared so clearly the goals we share,” O’Malley said.

The $70 million project was announced in May 2011, when Maryland Solar LLC said it planned to build the 20-megawatt array on state-owned land near the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown off Roxbury Road.

At peak output, the plant is supposed to be capable of generating enough electricity to power 2,700 homes.

Maryland Solar LLC was acquired in March by First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Ariz.

First Solar will use photovoltaic modules it manufactures, a company spokesman said in March. First Solar has manufacturing facilities for the modules in the United States, Germany and Malaysia, he said.

While the number of construction jobs for the project was estimated at 125, “a handful” will be needed to operate the facility, said Maja Wessels, First Solar executive vice president for global public affairs.

Construction will be done by Belectric, a German firm, Wessels said.

The company likely will use a combination of locally hired labor and its own staff, said Rose Baldwin, Belectric’s director of human resources.

First Solar has a 20-year power purchase agreement to sell electricity credits for the project to FirstEnergy Solutions, which also would obtain the renewable energy credits for the project.

Long-term power purchase agreements are important to investors, who want a predictable rate of return, O’Malley said. So are the renewable energy credits, which reduce costs, but could be phased out as solar power becomes more economical, he said.

China now produces half of the world’s solar panels and wind turbines, O’Malley said, and the United States’ share of world solar-panel production has declined from 42 percent to 10 percent in a decade.

The country can “surrender to the forces of globalization and global warming” or embrace renewable energy and the jobs it will create, O’Malley said.

First Solar built another solar project in Emmitsburg, Md., a 17.4-megawatt plant for Constellation Energy on the campus of Mount Saint Mary’s University, Wessels said.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners in June announced it had agreed to a power purchase and lease agreement with EPG Solar. The company will lease up to 130 acres at the county's Forty West and Resh Road landfills for a 25-megawatt project.

The town of Hancock last year signed a power purchase agreement with Millennium 3 Energy of Hagerstown for a solar facility that company installed at the town’s sewage treatment plant.

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