Columbia Association to buy solar energy from west county farm

Columbia Association to buy solar energy from west county farm

A major Columbia institution plans to become greener in 2015 through the use of solar energy, a move its leaders say is "the right thing to do."

Columbia Association, a large nonprofit and homeowner's association that manages many of Columbia's parks, pathways and fitness and recreational facilities, has agreed to a 20-year contract to annually purchase 2,500 megawatt-hours of solar energy from a solar farm in western Howard County.

The purchase will account for 25 percent of Columbia Association's energy consumption for the year, CA said in a news release.

"This solar project is a great step for our community and for the world we leave to our children," Milton Matthews, CA's president and CEO said in a statement. "From a sustainability perspective, it's absolutely the right thing to do. It will reduce CA's carbon footprint by more than 13 percent, and our organization also benefits from the project by purchasing clean power at competitive rates."

The 10-megawatt solar farm is currently being built off Route 32 near Interstate 70 at Nixon's Farm, according to the release. CA's portion of the farm is approximately 12 acres or nine football fields of solar panels. Officials said it will provide enough clean, renewable power to meet the needs of two of CA's fitness facilities: Columbia Athletic Club and Columbia Gym.

The project also will eliminate about 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions associated with CA's operations.

"CA has been looking to take a big step with respect to renewable energy for a long time, and a combination of this nearby solar farm and the virtual net metering through BGE provided us with the right opportunity," said Jeremy Scharfenberg, CA's energy manager.

CA is partnering with Bithenergy, SunEdison and Baltimore Gas and Electric on the project. Bithenergy is a Baltimore-based consulting firm that specializes in energy, including solar and wind farms, across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

The company has installed, serviced and maintained more than 20 solar energy systems in Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Bithenergy began building the 67-acre farm in summer 2012 and is expected to complete it next year. Once completed, the Nixon Solar Farm will be the largest solar power plant in Howard County and one of the largest in the state.

"Our engineering staff has worked diligently over the last few years to make the Nixon Solar Farm a model solar energy project that simplifies the process by which governments, nonprofits, and commercial businesses seamlessly benefit from robust renewable energy options," Robert Wallace, president and CEO of Bithenergy, said in a statement.

The power on the farm is delivered through a virtual net-metering program administered by SunEdison, a Missouri-based company that develops and finances solar energy solutions across the country, and BGE.

"Baltimore Gas and Electric's virtual net-metering program is a huge win for nonprofits and municipalities in the area," Michael Volpe, sales director at SunEdison, said in a statement. "The program allows customers to save on space and save on electricity costs by locating the solar panels off-site. We hope other nonprofits and municipalities in the area follow Columbia Association's lead and leverage this program to lock in energy savings and attain their sustainability goals."

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