SALISBURY- With the recent completion of the state’s second largest solar installation in Salisbury, the future of alternative energy in Maryland is looking brighter every day.
“I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what we can do,” said Governor Martin O’Malley during an open house for the new solar installation.
O’Malley, along with other government officials and industry leaders, visited the Salisbury headquarters of Perdue Inc. to tour the nearly six acre solar facility. Comprised of 5,040 solar panels, the installation is expected to generate more than 1,600 megawatt hours annually. Built adjacent to the Perdue Inc. headquarters, the panels will likely supply about 30 percent of the building’s annual energy needs.
“This is a great use of the land,” said Jim Perdue, Chairman of Perdue Inc.
The installation is the result of collaboration between Perdue Inc., Standard Solar, Inc., and Washington Gas Energy Services (WGES).
“Today, everybody wins,” said Steve Schwalb, Perdue Inc.’s Vice President of Environmental Sustainability.
Schwalb explained that projects like the new solar installation are usually too big to be accomplished by one group.
“They require creativity, they require collaboration, and they require true partnership,” he stated.
Built by Standard Solar and hosted by Perdue Inc, the panels were funded by WGES. Energy created by the installation is owned by the company and then sold back to Perdue Inc. It’s a business model that WGES representatives say is catching on as an effective way to finance solar expansion.
“It’s been going on across the state,” said Harry Warren, WGES President.
Warren explained that the model works for most solar facilities, but large ones like the one built for Perdue Inc. are the most cost effective.
“There are a couple of key conditions,” he admitted.
However, any area with open space and a desire to move towards solar energy might find a partnership with WGES, according to Warren. While the fields surrounding Perdue Inc.’s headquarters are ideal; large, flat rooftops and even parking lots can also play host to solar installations.
Perdue was enthusiastic about the partnership and the panels themselves.
“They’re good for the company and also good for the environment,” he noted.
According to Perdue, consumer curiosity has grown in the last few decades to the point where people don’t just want to know about what a company makes, they want to know how it was made as well.
“I think there’s an expectation out there,” he said. “Today, people want to know what’s behind the product.”
Because of those expectations, and an internal desire within the company to look into alternative energy, the Salisbury installation was added to a growing number of environmentally-friendly efforts, said Perdue.
“We have a strategic plan that talks a lot about sustainability,” he remarked.
Besides the Salisbury facility, Perdue Inc. also recently completed the first phase of installation, totaling 11,760 solar panels, at a Bridgeville, Del. location. Additionally, Perdue highlighted other efforts ongoing within his company, involving wind energy and natural gas.
“You really need to sit down and decide what you want to be…we all want clean water and we want clean air,” he said.
O’Malley viewed the project as further proof that American energy independence in the future “is not a pipe dream.”
“How do we feed, fuel, and heal this world of ours?” he asked during the open house.
O’Malley answered his own question by referencing the Perdue Inc. installation and others like it as steps in the right direction. Besides helping the environment, a rapidly expanding solar energy industry means new jobs, said O’Malley. He revealed that the industry was barely a “blip” five years ago in Maryland, but now provides jobs to between 1,200-1,500 people, which he joked was a 20,000 percent increase.
“We can create a lot of jobs,” promised O’Malley.
Another benefit of solar, he noted, is the positive impact it has on farming and agriculture by providing clean, easily accessible energy. Due to the nature of the panels, small installations can be built directly next to a farm for even more convenience.
“It [agriculture] is the largest sector of our economy,” he added.
Like Warren and Perdue, O’Malley acknowledged that the installation in Salisbury and others like it are usually the result of teamwork and dedication from several sources coming together.
“None of this happened by chance or accident,” he remarked.