SNOW HILL – County leaders agreed to begin exploring solar energy options this week following a proposal from Standard Solar and Sun Edison.
The Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously to begin researching the possibility of having the companies erect a solar array in Worcester County.
“I think we need to continue the discussion and do our homework to see where we stand and consider if we want to enter into a contract,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said.
Officials from Standard Solar and Sun Edison first approached officials to propose building a solar project in Worcester County more than three years ago. Standard Solar, the company’s Rob Busler explained, would operate the proposed solar field while Sun Edison would provide the capital for the project.
When Busler and his peers determined that the county did not have any land suitable for a solar array, which would require seven to 10 acres, they identified a piece of private land off Route 12 that would work. On Tuesday, Busler and Mike Volpe from Sun Edison presented the county commissioners with plans for a solar array off Route 12 that would produce 3.7 million kilowatt hours of electricity. Volpe said that if the project were completed, it would be just the third one in that state to be located on a third-party site.
“It really is a collaborative approach,” he said.
Even with the added cost of involving a piece of non-county owned land, the proposed solar array is projected to save the county close to $100,000 a year.
George Tasker, a councilman in Pocomoke City, said his municipality had worked with Standard Solar and Sun Edison on the solar array there.
“They jumped through hoops,” he said. “They did everything they could.”
Pocomoke’s solar array, which was completed in December, is the largest municipally owned system in Maryland.
“We found it was going to be a win-win,” Tasker said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said he was concerned about accepting Standard Solar’s proposal. He suggested the county go out to bid for a solar project, rather than simply accept the request.
“I don’t like sole source contracts,” he said.
Busler said that the idea was to get the project completed quickly, before federal incentives expired in December 2016. To qualify for the incentives, projects—which take about six months to build—have to be completed by December 2016.
Volpe added that he’d seen similar projects that were put out to bid fail to occur.
“There’s been a lot of financial engineering and games played in the market,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of projects not move forward.”
He said county officials could contact other municipalities and local governments to see what their experiences had been.
“Given the [approaching] end of the incentive period I’d connect with other municipalities that have had success,” he said.
Commissioner Ted Elder suggested county staff begin researching Standard Solar’s proposal. Mitrecic agreed and made the motion to have employees investigate existing solar arrays in the area.
The decision to research Standard Solar’s proposal came immediately after the commissioners voted not to hire solar consultant CQI Associates. The company had expressed interest in leading Worcester County through the solar bid process.