OCEAN CITY — In what appears to be a clear win-win situation, Ocean City officials on Tuesday inked a deal to acquire 20 percent of the town’s electric power consumption from a vast solar project along Route 50 at an estimated savings of $140,000 annually.
The Mayor and Council on Monday contracted with Constellation New Energy to acquire electric energy from the company’s future solar farm on a 400-acre site along Route 50 just west of its intersection with Route 90. Constellation New Energy acquired the 400-acre site and will develop a solar panel farm on roughly 70 acres that will generate 10 megawatts of electric power.
Ocean City on Tuesday reached an agreement with Constellation to purchase a percentage of the electric energy generated by the future solar panel array along Route 50 at 6.25 cents per kilowatt hour, which will achieve the parallel goals of expanding the town’s renewable energy portfolio while significantly reducing its annual electric bill.
“A meter is installed at that site and whatever that portion of the site generates, we pay a fixed amount for and it’s credited off our Delmarva Power bill,” said City Engineer Terry McGean. “It’s an estimated savings of $140,000 per year to the town. What we’re contracting for represents about 20 percent of the town’s annual use.”
Constellation New Energy Senior Manager Rick Kilbourne explained the evolution of the planned solar farm on Route 50 just 11 miles west of Ocean City.
“Constellation made a commitment a little over a year ago with the Maryland Public Service Commission to develop a minimum of five megawatts up to a maximum of 10 megawatts,” he said. “We have recently taken ownership of this parcel. It’s approximately 400 acres and we going to develop a solar array on 70 acres of that.”
Kilbourne said the Worcester County project is being viewed as a centerpiece of Constellation’s growing solar presence on Delmarva.
“We view this project as a potential flagship project, not just for our Maryland portfolio but for our entire portfolio,” he said. “The cost of this project is around $20 million. We’re paying for that internally and only ask the town of Ocean City to pay the negotiated contract rate for the kilowatt hours that your section of the array generates. This will be the largest solar plant on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We expect full operation of this project no later than December 2018.”
Councilman Wayne Hartman said if the solar project would produce 20 percent of the town’s electric consumption each year and save an estimated $140,000 annually, was there any opportunity to acquire more of the energy generated from it.
“If this is 20 percent of our power consumption, what makes us stop there?” he said. “We’re not paying any money out of pocket and we’re going to save $140,000 a year on our utility bill. It sounds too good to be true. Why stop at 20 percent?”
However, McGean said just a small percentage of the entire solar array on the Route 50 site was being made available to Ocean City at this time because Constellation had contracted with other purchasers.
“They have another client who is contracting for the other piece of the parcel,” he said. “There is only so much to go around.”
Kilbourne explained there could be an opportunity to expand Ocean City’s share in the future. He explained the project was capped at 10 megawatts by the Maryland Public Service Commission. He also explained the parent company, Echelon, acquired Pepco and was committed to building $350 million in energy projects in Pepco territories. Constellation is the business arm of Echelon and decided to build projects in Delmarva Power areas in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He said Ocean City could receive a large share in the future if the opportunity arises.
“In the event the other contracted party changes, or we have the opportunity to develop more, we’ll certainly come back to you with that,” he said. “We’re happy for the opportunity to build this solar project in close proximity to Ocean City.”
In a deal that appeared to get sweeter for Ocean City as the conversation went on, Kilbourne explained Constellation was prepared to promote Ocean City’s partnership in the clean, renewable energy project at the company’s expense.
“Constellation is very excited and open to any opportunities to partner with the Town of Ocean City to promote this as a flagship solar project,” he said. “We envision signage along Route 50 that would promote Ocean City’s partnership and participation in this.”
Not only would visitors learn of Ocean City’s involvement as they entered the resort along Route 50, Kilbourne explained the company also had plans to promote the renewable energy partnership within Ocean City, again, at the company’s expense.
“We are also open to the construction at our cost of any demonstration projects or kiosks whether they are interactive or not either in the lobby of City Hall or maybe the Boardwalk where visitors and tourists can see just 11 miles away there’s a very large solar plant that’s generating power the town is benefiting from,” he said.
Council Secretary Mark Knight made a motion to accept the low bid from Constellation to provide solar energy to the resort and offered a potential marketing opportunity at Winterfest of Lights, perhaps the town’s most visible electric consumption events.
“I love that you’re offering to do demonstrations and other promotions,” she said. “This year is the 25th anniversary of our Winterfest of Lights and that might be the perfect opportunity to promote this, but there are a lot of other opportunities to promote this. We don’t get many offers when people want to come in and fund things. That’s very exciting.”
Hartman agreed promoting Ocean City’s solar energy partnership during Winterfest of Lights was a good idea.
“Winterfest of Lights is a neat suggestion because there are thousands of lights in the park,” he said. “They do have the tent, so there are opportunities for demonstrations or added displays to promote this. It’s a neat concept by all means.”
Kilbourne said Constellation had done similar marketing and promotional efforts with other solar customers with great success and added the company would be open to whatever the town’s tourism and marketing experts could come up with.
“We’ve had a lot of success partnering with municipal and commercial customers in sponsoring events and doing different things that go beyond ribbon cuttings,” he said. “We’re looking at anything else we can do to provide information to the residents and tourists about this project. They’re going to drive past it, but what else can we do to promote this once they’re here. We have funding allocated to partner with the Town of Ocean City on that and we’ll work with your marketing experts.”