The largest solar-generating facility in Maryland, capable of powering more than 2,000 homes at peak output, is planned to open in 2012 on 250 acres of state-owned land near the Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown and the Maryland Correctional Training Center.
Maryland Solar LLC of Annapolis announced plans Friday to build the $70 million, 20-megawatt solar facility — a plant that company officials said will be one of the largest on the East Coast and will double the state’s current solar-generation capacity.
The plant would be on a site off Garris Shop and Roxbury roads currently used by a farmer whose lease expires in April 2012, according to Maryland Solar’s application to the Public Service Commission of Maryland.
Maryland Solar is seeking the necessary approvals and trying to secure a long-term lease from the Maryland Department of General Services to begin construction by December to be eligible for a federal renewable-energy tax credit, the application said.
Federal tax credits or cash grants equivalent to 30 percent of a project’s costs were supposed to have expired at the end of 2010, but were renewed, said Jon Moore, executive vice president of Maryland Solar. Moore said he does not think the credits and grants will be renewed for 2012.
Completion of the Maryland Solar Farm, as the project is called, is scheduled for December 2012, with operation beginning soon afterward, he said.
About 125 people will be employed during construction, but Moore said it would take a “relatively small” number of people to run once it is in operation.
Maryland Solar is in discussions with the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services about the possibility using prerelease inmates to perform routine maintenance such as landscaping and panel cleaning, a company news release said.
The actual footprint of the plant would not include the entire parcel, said Moore, who estimated that the generating facility would occupy about 150 acres. The number of solar panels needed would be “in the thousands,” and no manufacturer of panels has been selected, he said.
The photovoltaic panels would be mounted close to the ground with screening “to prevent visibility from the closest residential properties,” according to the company’s application. There would be no impact on aviation because there will be no smokestack, and no air or water pollution because there will be no emissions or wastewater or cooling water, the application said.
The solar station will connect to the grid through a substation on an adjacent parcel, so no transmission upgrades will be required, the application said. Maryland Solar has held discussions with Potomac Edison about connecting into the power company’s infrastructure, Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Meyers said.
As part of the approval of the merger of FirstEnergy and Allegheny Power earlier this year, state regulators required FirstEnergy to facilitate the development of renewable-energy projects, Meyers said.
Potomac Edison is a FirstEnergy subsidiary.
Ex-O’Malley aide involved
Moore and Michael Enright, a former senior aide to Gov. Martin O’Malley, will be leading the development effort, the release said.
Triad Engineering of Hagerstown is handling the permitting process.
Enright left the O’Malley administration in 2010 to become the managing director of Beowulf Energy of Easton, Md., according to a published report last year in The Washington Post. Maryland Solar is an affiliate of Beowulf created for this project and possibly other renewable-energy projects in the future, Moore said.
The $10,000 check accompanying the application to the PSC was from Bicent Power LLC, also of Easton.
Maryland requires filing an application for a certificate of need two years prior to construction, but the PSC can waive the requirement, the application said.
Maryland Energy Administration figures show that the plant would generate enough power to supply about 2,250 average homes while displacing approximately 13,900 tons of carbon dioxide annually — the equivalent of taking 2,700 cars off the road, according to the company release.
Maryland has set a goal of producing 20 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2022, with 2 percent coming from solar generation.
State Del. Neil C. Parrott, a Republican who represents the area where the solar farm would be built, said Friday that he likes the idea.
“I think it’s an interesting project,” he said.
Parrott said he’d like to see specific plans for how the project will look and wants to hear what neighbors think of it.
“I like what I’ve heard so far,” said Sen. Christopher B. Shank, whose territory also includes the project site, declaring himself “cautiously optimistic.”
Shank said he also wants to hear community reactions and to find out more about the arrangement the state would have for the use of the land.
The Washington County legislative delegation is scheduled to meet Thursday with Poole, Shank said.
“We don’t like to see crop ground taken up ... but they’ll be using the ground for a good cause,” said Jeremiah Weddle, who leases the land to grow wheat, alfalfa and soybeans.
“I wish they could put it on rooftops instead of agricultural land,” Weddle said, noting that he understands that the state’s renewable-energy goals make that impractical. He said the prison, Department of General Services and the companies involved “bent over backwards to work with us and help us.”
Weddle said he will be looking for different land to farm to replace production lost to the project.
Maryland currently has about 15 megawatts of solar-generating capacity, according to the release.
Another company plans to open a 17-megawatt facility in 2012 at Mount Saint Mary’s College, Moore said.
Maryland Solar and Hagerstown Community College will work together on an educational component to the solar farm, with the company providing internships and job-shadowing opportunities and on-site class visits.
HCC will have an offsite-monitoring room in its Science Technology Engineering Math building.
Staff Writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story