10-Acre Solar Facility Lowers Energy Bills At Treatment Plant

A small Maryland city’s clean-water plant provides a site for a 2.1 MW solar photovoltaic system with benefits that spread throughout the community.
10-Acre Solar Facility Lowers Energy Bills At Treatment Plant
The 2.1 MW solar plant is the largest municipally-owned system in Maryland. It will help power the wastewater treatment plant and other buildings in the city, reducing the municipal electric bill by about 17 percent.

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The Pocomoke City Wastewater Treatment Facility isn’t the only beneficiary of a new solar photovoltaic installation in its small Maryland community. The 2.1 MW solar plant, the state’s largest municipally owned system, benefits other city facilities while also helping several nonprofit organizations save on their electric bills.

For Russ Blake, city manager, the savings are even sweeter because the system cost the city nothing up front. Standard Solar of nearby Rockville proposed the development in 2014 after meeting with Bruce Morrison, mayor of Pocomoke City (population 4,300), at the 2013 Maryland Municipal League conference.

“All we had to do was supply the land,” says Blake. “We had surplus land at the treatment plant because we had two 40-acre lagoons until about 10 years ago. It was perfectly located, was zoned appropriately and was already cleared with no trees.”

Growing market

SunEdison funded the fixed-array solar facility in exchange for a long-term lease at $1 per year and a 20-year net metering power purchase agreement. Standard Solar did the installation and will maintain the 6,350 solar panels on 10 acres. “It’s a very attractive deal, I think, for any wastewater plant,” says Blake. “There is no cost, and you can get the benefit of a lower electric rate.”

The developers are assured of a customer for the power and receive federal subsidies and tax incentives for the project’s construction. As long as those remain available, Blake expects competition for such facilities to increase. “Other communities might consider looking around and shopping this to other companies,” he says. “We didn’t do that, but we’d been talking to them for more than a year. The market is evolving quickly, and I think there’s going to be more competition.”

The power from the solar panels flows to the grid, so the discounted rate of 7.8 cents per kWh, with a 1 percent annual escalation, will benefit all city buildings through net metering.

Widespread benefits

While the water and wastewater treatment plants will see the most benefit, the deal will reduce the city’s overall electric bill by about 17 percent, or $40,000 a year in the first year, over the rates charged by Delmarva Power, a division of Pepco. “The beauty is that we know what our rates and electric costs will be for 20 years, and as utility rates go up, ours won’t increase more than 1 percent,” Blake says.

The city’s electric demand determined the solar plant size. “We totaled up how many megawatt-hours we use in a year, and they designed the solar plant around how much we need,” says Blake. “They don’t overbuild. If we only need about 2.1 MW, they’re not going to build a 4 MW plant.”

Some local nonprofit organizations are included in the net metering arrangement and will also get reduced rates. The Worcester County Developmental Center, MARVA Theater, Samaritan Shelter and the Delmarva Discovery Center will collectively save about $15,000 a year.

The solar power will also have environmental benefits: Standard Solar says it will offset 2,067 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equal to the CO2 emissions from the electricity used by 284 homes for one year, or the annual carbon offset from a 1,639-acre forest. The facility went online last December, six months after groundbreaking.

Teaching tool

“We are pleased to partner with SunEdison and Standard Solar to bring our new solar project online,” Blake says. “In addition to the annual cost savings, this project demonstrates our commitment to clean, renewable energy and provides educational value for area students and residents.”

As is often the case, the 1.47 mgd (design) clean-water plant (average flow of 0.7 mgd) is the city’s largest electricity user. About five years ago, the plant was converted from biological nutrient removal to a Biolac enhanced nutrient removal process (Parkson Corporation). UV disinfection was added a few years ago, and the plant is upgrading its programmable logic control panel for better process control.

Blake says the plant operates well with a staff of six serving the water and wastewater sides. The city took second place in the National Rural Water Association’s drinking-water taste test last year. Michael Phillips, plant superintendent, is a past Maryland Rural Water Operator of the Year, Valerie Miller has won the Water

Clerk of the Year award, and Blake was the group’s Decision Maker of the Year two years ago.

A new lab building is in the works this year, and the city has converted about a third of its water meters to automated meter reading. Part of that funding came from a state grant, and the city used nearly $1 million in federal stimulus funding for a new drinking-water well. The water plant also installed a new backup generator this year.

Are there more renewables in the city’s future? Blake won’t be there to decide because he retires this year, but he hopes so: “You have to be open to those types of things now and be aware of the opportunities. There is definitely going to be a payoff for us.”


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