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Town solar project moves forward

Richard D. L. Fulton

(9/24) A town Board of Commissioners-approved solar energy installation to be constructed at the Emmitsburg wastewater treatment plant site could save the town up to $1 million over 20 years.

Jack Copus, director of business development at Rockville-based Standard Solar, presented an overview of the project to the town Board of Commissioners at their September 3 meeting, and the board approved a motion in a 2-1 vote at a special meeting held September 23 to move the project forward.

Cliff Sweeney and Tim O’Donnell voted in favor. Joy and Hoover were absent.

Regarding his vote against the motion, Staiger subsequently told the News-Journal, “I think all the guaranteed benefits go to Standard Solar and UGI. Only one, unguaranteed, 'benefit' is offered to the town - a non-negotiable, twenty year, escalating rate structure based on a commitment to purchase all of the power produced.”

Standard Solar was appointed by the town as the project EPC (engineer-procurement-construct management) through a previously held competitive bidding process.

As the project EPC, Copus stated at the September 3 briefing, “We helped developed this project as far as its current form. We will do the engineering, the procurement, the construction, also we’ll operate and maintain the array once it’s up and running.”

“We have developed a 1.1 megawatt ground-mount which is going to be at Creamery Road at the existing wastewater treatment facility,” Copus told the board. “It (the proposed solar facility) is estimated to produce about 1,400 megawatt hours on the first year, which is 1,425,000 kilowatt hours.”

“The economics of this project for phase one, the way we’ve designed it and analyzing the current load for 20 meters throughout town, we’ll be able to provide electricity for about 86 percent of the town’s (municipal) needs,” the project manager stated.

If the Vigilant Hose and Ambulance Company do not choose to participate, production will be closer to 100% of the town’s requirement. This could obligate the town to purchase power it does not use.

Copus said, “There is no up-front costs to the town, and the approximate savings is about $1 million over the 20-year term (except outside lawyer costs and replacement of some existing piping).”

However, Fred Ugast, president of US Photovoltaics, Inc., Frederick, said economic fluctuations in the power industry over the 20-year life of the contract could result in less savings.

UGI Utilities, Inc., a natural gas and electric utility serving 630,000 customers in 45 counties in Pennsylvania and one county in Maryland, according to the company, will own the solar production operation for 20 years as a third party.

The contract requires the town to purchase power from UGI for 20 years. In exchange, for producing the solar energy, the town would receive a reduced cost on their energy consumption, which represent as much as a $1 million savings over the life of the contract.

The cost reduction is ESTIMATED over twenty years (by the people supplying us the power!) It is not guaranteed, as no one knows how power rates will play out over the next twenty years!!! The million dollar savings is their SALES PITCH based on the most rosy scenario… Indeed power rates from our current supplier are GOING DOWN by 8% next month…

At the end of the 20-year contract, Emmitsburg could then “have the system removed at no cost, extend the terms in one year or five year increments, or purchase the system at fair market value,” Copus stated.

The solar installation would be done in two phases, both intended to produce approximate 1.1 million megawatts. Only phase one, due to be online by the end of December, was discussed.

The first phase is 1.1 megawatts. A second phase could be added once our demand increases when the new WWTP is on line.

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