The roster of Kent lawmakers and public officials huddled under a tent at the new Worton Solar Field on Tuesday to dedicate a “first” in Maryland’s renewable energy portfolio, which will produce the energy needs of three school facilities, the Kent County Community Center, and the Kent County Department of Public Works building on Morgnec Road.
“This project has incorporated several ‘firsts,’” said Standard Solar President Scott Wiater, whose company built and will operate the 1.2 Megawatt facility for Washington Gas Energy Services. “It is the first aggregate net metering project for a municipality…in Maryland.”
There are many solar projects on the Eastern Shore but the Worton Solar field is unique in that it does not sell just the excess of its energy needs to the power company–but rather sells 100 percent of the energy output to the grid for a “dollar for dollar credit,” which is applied to the energy bills of the designated county facilities, Wiater said at the dedication on Tuesday.
This means every dollar the solar field sells to the grid is directly deducted from the electric bills of the designated county facilities.
“Generating electricity close to where it is going to be consumed is the wave of the future,” Wiater said.
“The project cost around $5 million to build,” said Sanjiv Mahan, Vice President of Business Development for Washington Gas Energy Services, which owns the solar field.
Mahan said his company has been looking for ways to diversify its portfolio over the last two years in the face of a “changing world” and a “carbon constrained” environment.
“So about two years ago we asked how we should go about diversifying ourselves, and a clear example is what you see behind us today,” Mahan said as he pointed to the seven-acre solar field which hosts an array of 5,376 solar panels.
Mahan applauded his company’s relationship with the Kent County Commissioners and local agencies in developing the project. He said the State of Maryland was also a very important stakeholder and facilitator of renewable energy projects.
“The state is forward thinking in how it looks at energy for the state and is offering incentives and opportunities by requiring [energy] companies have renewable portfolios,” Mahan said. “That’s very critical for us. It allows corporations the opportunity to invest in [renewables] long term.”
Mahan said his company started investing in small projects two years ago of around $3 million—but the company has now committed over $150 million to alternative and renewable energy projects.
“We believe this is the right way as a nation, a state, and a community to best our environment as a whole,” Mahan said. We believe this is how we need to balance…dependency on fossil fuels.”
Kent County School Superintendent Barabara Wheeler said the school system has been an enthusiastic stakeholder of the project from the beginning and plans to use the solar field as a laboratory for a renewable energy curriculum.
“This initiative will reduce costs by billions of dollars over time and shrink our carbon foot print,” Wheeler said. “At the same time we are eager to incorporate new lessons on solar energy into our curriculum—giving students the opportunity to learn about solar power and monitor their own energy consumption.”
“Solar energy is being used throughout the globe, and it is essential that students begin to understand where the energy comes from that turns on our lights, powers our computers, and keeps our refrigerators cold,” she said.
Students from Kent County High School and Worton Elementary got a tour of the facility in May and were introduced to a curriculum developed by the school system to monitor energy production from the solar field.
A monitor has been placed in the high school to show how energy is being used and saved, Wheeler said. She also said many activities will center on the new solar field, which is only 200 yards from the High School.
“Students will…use the project as a catalyst for research,” Wheeler said. “[And] teachers will be engaged in the Fall with professional development activities that will help them to invent solar energy concepts into their lesson [plans].”
Maryland’s 1st District Democratic Candidate Wendy Rosen said renewable energy projects like the Worton Solar Field were critical to national security and domestic job security.
“This is part of the new economy,” Rosen said. “We have to start thinking in these ways because this is where the new jobs are coming from and this is also an issue of national security. The less dependent we are on foreign fossil fuels, the more secure we are as a nation.”
Del. Jay Jacobs, R-Kent, said “Once again Kent County is at the forefront of another technology breakthrough in the State of Maryland. We have the largest solar panel population on the Eastern Shore now.”
A joint press release from Kent County Government, the school system, Washington Gas, and Standard Solar listed the benefits to the environment and the jobs that will be created from the seven-acre solar field.
The solar field will reduce the CO2 emissions of 215 passenger cars over a year’s time, or the equivalent of six rail cars of coal. The field will also produce “60 full- and part-time jobs,” the press release said.
The output from the solar field will be prioritized over the five locations. Kent County High School will have its electric bill paid first from the revenue generated from the solar field–followed by Worton Elementary, the Kent County Community Center, and the broadcast antenna for the high school’s radio station, WKHS. Standard Solar estimates the remaining output can cover up to 50 percent of the electric bill for the public works building on Morgnec Road.