Solar Farms Could Power Wicomico County's Future - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Solar Farms Could Power Wicomico County's Future

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Image Courtesy Wicomico County Image Courtesy Wicomico County
Image Courtesy Wicomico County Image Courtesy Wicomico County
SALISBURY, Md.- Imagine a future where almost all of Wicomico County's power comes from the sun. That future may not be too far off. The Department of Public Works has been working with a contractor on plans for two solar farms in the county, which were discussed at Tuesday's council meeting. Besides cleaner energy, it would also mean savings.

An empty field behind the county's landfill could soon look a lot different.

“Basically, we'd have a fence that would go around the outside of the perimeter to protect everything, and then we'd have the solar panels set up in the field here,” explained Public Works Director Lee Beauchamp, while showing WBOC the site Tuesday.

It is one of two proposed solar farm sites and, if approved, would mean about 6,000 panels over six acres of land. The second farm would include about 4,000 panels, and sit at the Delmar Convenience Center.

“Both sites combined would take care of the majority of our power consumption for the county, and we'd see a savings of about half, we'd pay about half what we're paying currently for electricity off the electric grid,” said Beauchamp.

That equates to about 4.5 cents per kilowatt, which would be a fixed rate over a 20-year period through the company SolarCity with what is known as a power purchase agreement.

“A power purchase agreement allows us to buy energy, or electricity, from a solar farm that has been established on our own property,” Beauchamp explained. “We lease the land, but we don't receive any land revenue or any lease revenue from the land.”

But what the county would receive is savings of roughly $111,000 per year from the larger site, Beauchamp said, and about $51,000 at the Delmar site. That works out to a combined savings of more than $3 million over the 20-year term with SolarCity.

According to Beauchamp, those savings would be divvied up between the county's 20 largest power consumers.

I like to think of it as a legacy move in terms of being able to have the county have the least expensive power possible,” noted SolarCity project development manager Brent Eskay.

Eskay said the prospect of a cleaner tomorrow makes the proposal even more of a win-win.

At this point in time, Wicomico County and many others are buying what we like to refer to kindly as "dirty power," which is power that comes from coal, power that comes from oil production, power that comes from nuclear,” he noted. “In terms of meeting potential future carbon goals or carbon offsets, they're going to be reducing the overall carbon consumption of the county by generating this power here, so in that sense, they're certainly heading down a more environmental path.

Among the concerns voiced by council members Tuesday was the potential degradation of the panels over time.

They have a performance guarantee,” explained Beauchamp. “So if for some reason the solar panels don't operate at the peak performance, peak efficiencies, they actually will cut us a check back for what that panel was guaranteed to operate at.”

Council is set to vote on a resolution for the solar farms at the Sept. 2nd county council meeting.

If plans move forward, Eskay said he expects panels will be in the ground by Jan. 2015.


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