Harford Community College's Board of Trustees unanimously approved a power purchase agreement Monday, which is expected to save the college more than $1 million in energy costs over 20 years.
Solar panels installed on rooftops of four buildings - the Susquehanna Center addition, Chesapeake Center, Student Center and Joppa Hall – will result in very little financial liability for the institution, but potentially large savings on the college's energy bills.
The agreement with Tecta Solar will have the college paying 5.7 cents per kilowatt-hour with up to a 2.57 percent increase each year, depending on the market. With BGE, HCC is paying about 7.4 cents per kilowatt-hour.
The system is planned to be installed and operational by Dec. 31.
The solar energy system will not only bring economical benefits to the college, but also social ones, including using it as a teaching tool, HCC officials said.
"If we're using this as a teaching tool," board member James Valdes said, "we should also teach the students that a technology like this, that has to have tax breaks and incentives that distort the market, says something about the technology and about whether or not it is ready."
Valdes said there will be "huge changes in solar technology for the better" in four or five years, and asked if the college could swap out the panels for newer technology when it becomes available.
Victor Dodson, HCC director of procurement, said if there is a 7 percent improvement in efficiency and/or cost, the college would negotiate in good faith to switch out the panels because it would be in the best interest of the college and Tecta.
"The only liability is if the price of electricity goes down significantly from where it is now," Rick Johnson, the college's vice president of finance and operations, said Friday. "We, unfortunately, think it's going the other way."
Last week, the college met to discuss a possible partnership with Tecta Solar to install a solar energy system on campus and sell the panels to a third party, which would then sell the energy generated from the panels back to the college at a discounted rate.
Johnson described the agreement as a "hedge."
"It's a good opportunity for the college to hedge our energy requirements for the next 20 years," he said.
The 20-year agreement with Tecta has options to renew at the end of the contract or buy the system outright.
The college will not own the energy system, but basically lease its rooftop space for the solar panels to generate energy.
Whichever company buys the panels from Tecta will take responsibility for those panels - maintenance, replacing, inspections and insurance.
Tax credits for using alternative energy and selling the power back to the college is what will appeal to the third party buyer.
"Tax credits are worth significantly more than [tax] reductions," Johnson explained. "They reduce the tax bill from the bottom line."
The federal government is offering "incentives," Johnson continued, through tax credits to companies to invest in alternative energy.
Since HCC is a tax-exempt non-profit institution, it isn't able to take advantage of those credits.
Where the college does benefit, however, is being able to purchase discounted energy from the third party that buys the energy produced by the panels on the HCC buildings.