Howard school to get solar panels

Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City will soon receive nearly 90 percent of its electrical power from the sun.

Howard County Board of Education officials say they've partnered with the county's Department of Public Works to place about 2,000 solar panels on a landfill next to Worthington Elementary that will supply the school with solar energy year-round.

The project, which will be discussed at Worthington's Media Center on Tuesday night, is a boost to a school that already employs environmentally conscious practices such as Waste-Free Wednesdays, when students are encouraged to pack meals in reusable containers and use cloth napkins.

Ken Roey, executive director of facilities planning and management for the county's public school system, said Worthington Elementary will be one of few buildings in the state to receive such a high percentage of its power from solar energy, adding that most solar-equipped buildings get 30 percent to 40 percent of their power from it.

Roey said that the set of solar panels, called an array, will generate power that will then be sold to the school as renewable energy credits. The array will be placed on about an acre of the New Cut Road Landfill. He said the panels are scheduled to be installed beginning in late fall.

"Over the course of the year, we project that the array is going to produce approximately 573,000 kilowatt-hours of electrical power," Roey said. "The school is projected to use just less than 600,000 kilowatt-hours of power."

The panels, Roey said, will be placed on tubs with ballast material rather than being planted directly into the ground. He said that placing the array atop an open area ensures that it will last longer than placing it atop a roof. The long-term benefits of the project make it attractive to a school, he added.

"It definitely works better for government than a private firm, because one thing you have to be assured of in these kinds of arrangements is that you have a long-term owner," Roey said. "We're not going anywhere; Worthington Elementary School is going to be there for not just the next 20 years but for a long time after that. We're looking at investing over the long term.

"If you have a private owner or developer, their strategic plan may only go out five or 10 years, and they may decide to move to another market."

The project is funded through a Project SunBurst Grant from the Maryland Energy Administration, and Roey said the grant, which totaled more than $460,000, is what made the project financially viable.

"Some of the grants that are out there and stimulus money that's out there makes it more attractive to go into these kinds of arrangements," he said. "As more of these are built and they get to be either cost neutral or economically beneficial without any grant money, then you will see more and more of this."

Roey added that he believes that from an environmental standpoint, more local businesses may opt for solar power once they see the benefits from the Worthington Elementary project.

"From a sustainability perspective, it's a great thing to do," Roey added. "Why wouldn't you put some type of renewable energy where you're not adding to the carbon footprint if you can get it at the same or lower cost than you're getting for traditional energy?"

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