This story was corrected on July 30, 2012. An explanation follows the story.
A solar company’s most recent expansion of its Beltsville facility reflects a Maryland solar industry that’s still robust, business leaders say.
SolarCity of San Mateo, Calif., has expanded its Beltsville facility to 23,000 square feet from 13,000 square feet to accommodate a work force that’s jumped from 12 to 100 in the past 18 months, spokesman Will Craven wrote in an email to The Gazette. SolarCity also is hiring eight more employees in the state.
“Maryland’s growing appetite for solar is good for the state’s economy and energy mix, and our Beltsville Operations Center is at the heart of it all,” according to a SolarCity news release.
SolarCity has installed solar projects on more than 1,000 buildings across the state, including a 227-kilowatt project for Ruppert Cos. in Laytonsville and a 110-kilowatt project at Bullis School in Potomac, Craven said.
“So many of our current staff live in and around Beltsville, and we’ve enjoyed being part of that community. Beltsville also allows us to serve both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., metro areas from the same operations center,” he said.
SolarCity, which touts itself as a single source for installation, payment plans, insurance, repairs and monitoring, has 25 offices throughout the U.S.
Rising electricity costs and a growing interest and knowledgeability about solar energy is boosting the market, said Rick Berube, vice president of operations for Standard Solar, a Gaithersburg solar energy provider.
Standard Solar has worked on 1,000 of the 3,000 Maryland homes with solar units, Berube said.
“There’s plenty of homes to go around,” he said. “People want to do the right thing.”
Standard Solar has 80 employees and has seen its crews grow “exponentially” during the past several years, Berube said.
Shrinking installation prices are spurring interest, he said.
“We’ve seen prices drop 50 percent from 2010, which is pretty substantial,” said Matt Bartlett, founder and president of AtisSun in Annapolis. He attributed the lower solar costs to more efficient manufacturing and more competition.
AtisSun has seen its sales triple from last year and has experienced “sizeable” year-to-year growth for each of its seven years in business, Bartlett said.
“We’ve been getting more business than we’re able to support,” he said, adding AtisSun is looking to supplement its 10 employees with new installers, sales people and managers. “You name it, we’re looking for it.”
Maryland’s incentives are a major force behind the state’s solar progress, said Richard Tate, owner of Simply Solar in Abingdon.
Maryland offers a $1,000 rebate for any solar installations of more than 20,000 kilowatts, and allows 100 percent property and sales tax exemptions for residential solar installations, according to state information. Solar projects of 20,000 kilowatts also are eligible for $5,000 in tax credits. This couples with the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar system installation, as well as several county tax credits.
The state also allows renewable energy credits to be sold to utilities at a current rate of $200 per 1,000 kilowatts. Maryland requires 2 percent of public utilities energy to come from renewable sources and has set a goal of increasing that amount to 20 percent by 2022.
“All of these add up to Maryland being one of the best states to do solar,” Berube said. “Out of the 50 states, I believe Maryland to be in the top eight for being solar-friendly.”
The state’s solar reputation does especially well when compared to neighboring jurisdictions such as Virginia, which offers no state tax credits and has limited rebates and energy credit payments, Bartlett said.
He predicted within the next four years, solar projects might start becoming viable, even without the incentives.
Berube said he welcomed the new competition of the growing SolarCity, saying Standard Solar has seen many companies come into Maryland and leave.
“We’re here for the long haul,” he said.
Explanation: The current rate for renewable energy credits in Maryland is $200 per 1,000 kilowatts; the maximum is $400. This was unclear in the original version.