Poolesville celebrated the opening of a new solar array on Monday that town officials expect will save the town $30,000 in energy costs in its first year of operation. County Executive Isiah Leggett, State Senator Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15), County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) and the Poolesville Board of Commissioners attended the ceremony, touting Poolesville’s progressive thinking and calling it a model for other municipalities.
The town set up a site where residents can see how much power the array produces and the reduction of the town’s carbon footprint. Since the array came online in February, it has created enough energy to power 40 homes for a year and has saved nearly 600,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, the equivalent of emissions from 260,000 miles of driving in a sedan, according to the site. It has reduced as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as would over 11,000 trees, the site reads. The power goes to offsetting electricity for the wastewater treatment plant.
Poolesville partnered with Standard Solar, Inc. of Rockville and UGI Corporation of Pennsylvania to build the 4,480-panel array next to the wastewater treatment plant on Fisher Avenue. UGI financed and owns the $2.7 million array on six acres of previously unused land leased from the town for $1 for twenty years, said Town Manager Wade Yost.
Leggett said he hopes that Poolesville has forged a path to make solar more accessible for other towns to follow its lead.
“We’re big enough and small enough to take on a project like this and bring it to fruition,” said President of the Town Commissioners Jim Brown. The project was two years in the making, since former President of the Commissioners Eddie Kuhlman initiated the project. Kuhlman had wanted to power all of Poolesville’s public utility needs, from street lights to well pumps, with solar, but state laws limited how much power the town could produce, reserving large projects for utility companies, Kuhlman said.
Feldman said that he wanted to look at what prohibitions to solar power the state could remove.
“This could be a pilot or model for the entire state of Maryland,” he said.
It’s the second largest array in the county, after the solar project at the Seneca Wastewater Treatment Plant in Germantown, according to Standard Solar CEO Tony Clifford. Poolesville High School students are also using the array as a learning tool for the global ecology magnet program, he said.
“Solar is really changing a lot in the U.S. and the solar revolution is happening at the local and municipal level,” Clifford said. In the past five years the costs of solar have gone down by 75 percent, he said, and the technology is advancing rapidly. The polysilicon panels are made primarily from quartz, a commonly available resource, he added.
With solar, he said the town will prevent 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year.
As long as solar power remains cheaper than traditional fuels, the town will save money. In the past it has spent about $96,000 per year on electricity for wastewater treatment and about $250,000 overall, according to Yost. Clifford said that as the cost of solar continues to drop, it is being taken more seriously as an alternative to fossil fuels. For the next twenty years, the town gets a reduced rate for allowing UGI to use its land. By then, officials expect the cost of solar power to have dipped below rates of electricity from traditional fuels.