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Constellation Energy to Open Two Solar Plants in Westover

Published on 29 Oct 2012
Constellation NewEnergy 

Constellation Energy is to open two solar power plants before year's end on former farmland in this rural hamlet, chipping in 4 megawatts more of electricity toward a state goal of displacing a consumption of fossil fuel.

Total electricity output by the plants off Costen Road will more than double large-scale renewable generation growth in sun power for Somerset County, where last year, SunEdison unveiled a 2.2 megawatt solar farm at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Somerset County, currently generating 2.37 megawatts of solar power, ranks first on the Eastern Shore and 10th among the state's 23 counties and Baltimore City in solar photovoltaic capacity, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.

The Costen Road plants, to serve electricity needs for the University of Maryland Medical System and Chesapeake Renewable Energy, would raise Somerset County's solar photovoltaic, or PV, capacity, to 6.37 megawatts, positioning the county for a potential fourth place in solar capacity in the state. Currently, Frederick County has the highest solar PV capacity, generating 19.38 megawatts of power, according to an MEA solar survey.

Baltimore County follows with a capacity of 9.81 megawatts, followed by Montgomery, with 8.35 megawatts, the MEA said.

On the Lower Shore, Wicomico County ranks second with a 1.66-megawatt solar capacity. By comparison, Worcester's generation capacity is 0.38, according to the MEA's latest county-by-county solar PV capacity survey.

Diversely green

Solar projects, along with a planned poultry manure-to-fuel plant at the Eastern Correctional Institution prison and smaller-scale wind turbines already in or planned at residences and public buildings, distinguish Somerset County as a leader in diversified, renewable energy.

"You can see that Somerset County has positioned itself to attract various types of energy projects to include solar, wind, biomass, poultry litter and the like," said Daniel Thompson, executive director at the Somerset County Economic Development Commission.

"This diversification allows us to have a broad energy-based portfolio for now and into the future."

Maryland's current in-state renewable energy generation is 33.5 percent of the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS requirement that 20 percent of the state's electricity is generated from renewable energy sources by 2022, said Devan Willemsen, communications manager at MEA.

At least 2 percent must be from solar energy by 2020.

Renewable energy sources regarded by Maryland regulators as Tier 1 RPS resources include solar, wind, qualifying biomass, as well as poultry-litter incineration facilities linked to a state distribution grid.

Biodiesel, said Willemsen, "could be used in megawatt-scale reciprocating engines to generate electricity, but it is not being done currently, to the best of MEA's knowledge."

In Princess Anne, the Greenlight Biofuels plant until recently manufactured poultry fat and other food greases in biodiesel, was Somerset County's first renewable energy facility of its kind.

Earlier this month, Energy Development Services of Trappe unveiled a proposal to build a 1-megawatt solar farm on public school property that would supply electrical power to three county schools.

That project, to be operated by Kenyon Energy of Florida, proposes to install 2,632 solar panels over 5 acres near the Somerset County Board of Education in Westover.

Affordable land

Other groups have staked out at least 100 acres of farmland for proposed wind-energy farms nearby in Westover, although the projects have come under scrutiny by military officials because of potential interferences by the turbines with radar operations at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station across the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland.

"Certainly, these types of clean, renewable and alternative energy projects assist the county, the state and the nation towards energy goals, while reducing our dependence on traditional forms of energy," Thompson said.

The 21.83-acre solar farm in Westover is a prime location to spread 17,304 solar panels, said Ron Melchior, director of Renewable Energy at Constellation.

"The location is strategic to the (power) grid and the land is affordable," he said. "The solar arrays will be situated low to the ground and will not significantly alter views of the area. We're doing work on the site now, driving in supports for panels. We should be up and running by Dec. 31."

The MEA expects solar and wind projects to lead as Maryland works over the next eight years to increase its overall renewable-energy generation to 3,721 megawatts — the amount needed to achieve the state's long-term RPS goal, Willemsen said.

"Maryland is currently generating 6.7 percent of its energy from in-state renewable generation, which accounts for 33.5 percent of the state's 2022 goal," Willemsen said. "Much of the state's future renewable generation growth is projected to come from offshore wind, onshore wind and solar."

Construction jobs

Constellation plans a 3.75-megawatt plant to serve facilities of the University of Maryland Medical System, among the top 20 employers in Maryland that operates Shore Health System and its affiliated with Dorchester General Hospital in Cambridge and Memorial Hospital in Easton, Melchior said.

The second plant is a .42-megawatt operation from which Chesapeake Renewable Energy intends to draw electricity for a project involving soybeans, he also said.

Constellation, which owns and operates about 123 megawatts of solar for commercial and governmental customers across the nation, will own and operate the two Costen Road installations.

The University of Maryland will purchase power generated by a grid-connected system, Melchior said, while Chesapeake Renewable intends to purchase power from a meter system.

"By structuring these solar projects as power purchase agreements or solar services agreements, Constellation offers solar installations that may require no upfront capital from customers, and may provide fixed power costs that are less than projected market rates," Melchior said.

While permanent jobs are not a drawing card to the local region, there will be an estimated 20 employment opportunities in construction for a total of 7,000 work hours, he said. Positions include surveyors, electricians, fence installers, concrete workers and heavy equipment operators.

Collectively, the renewable energy industry has brought a sizable number of opportunities to the region, Thompson said.

"After completion, the employment levels will be minor," he said,

"However, with the addition of quite a few of these type solar projects in the area, the aggregate may be rather significant."


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