There are several options for getting renewable solar power at one’s residence, members of the community learned during a seminar at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bel Air Saturday morning.
People can get solar panels on their roofs, on the property of houses of worship, businesses or government institutions, or buy into a membership program to have the power — produced at a solar facility in your area — if they live in an apartment or other multi-family community where space is not available for a solar array.
St. Matthew, which is off of Route 22 in the east side of town, dedicated a 648-panel solar array on its campus last month.
Rick Wegner, of the Essex-based company Power Factor, worked on the installation of the church’s solar array. He was among those who made presentations to the seminar audience, which numbered about 30, along with church leaders, members of the community group Harford County Climate Action and Armando Gaetaniello, sales and development manager for the corporation Neighborhood Sun.
Neighborhood Sun provides memberships, through which Maryland residents can pay for a block of solar energy — a fixed amount per kilowatt hour — produced at a Maryland-based facility. The energy is sent to electric grids and provided to customers through utilities such as BGE, and customers can earn credits for using solar power, according to the company’s website, https://neighborhoodsun.solar.
Memberships are available to people who live in apartments or condominiums, owners of single-family houses who have roofs that are not suitable for solar panels, or who cannot afford the installation costs, according to Gaetaniello’s presentation.
“It’s really a win for the planet, a win for climate and it’s a win for your pocketbook,” said Tracey Waite, president of Harford County Climate Action and a Neighborhood Sun member.
The Bel Air resident said she and her family looked into rooftop solar but determined their roof faces the wrong direction, plus they did not want to cut down “some nice trees” on their property to accommodate the panels. Waite said she receives two bills, one from Neighborhood Sun and one from BGE, and has about 10 percent savings in total energy costs. She also noted people can find a link to Neighborhood Sun on the Harford County Climate Action website, https://hcclimateaction.org.
“You’re definitely guaranteed to save money and to know that 95 percent of your energy is coming from this solar installation that is here, that’s a local, Maryland-based solar installation,” she told audience members.
Gaetaniello pointed out two solar-generating facilities in the Baltimore area — one in White Marsh and the Dogwood A/B Project in Baltimore County near Patapsco Valley State Park — that are used to provide solar power to BGE customers via Neighborhood Sun.
“Hundreds of people can go solar by participating in a community shared solar array,” he said.
He said the company covers, “on average,” about 80 percent of a BGE customer’s electric usage, although not their gas usage. He showed a sample BGE bill indicating 80 percent of electric usage is worth a $51.93 credit.
Gaetaniello also said that 29 percent of Maryland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from electric consumption, based on a 2017 Maryland Greenhouse Gas Inventory from the Maryland Department of the Environment. The transportation sector, both on-road and non-road, accounts for 38 percent of greenhouse gases, according to the same chart.
More and more transportation companies are adopting electric vehicles, but that will not help cut greenhouse gas emissions if most electricity is still generated by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, according to Gaetaniello.
“We definitely have to bring more wind [power], more solar, more battery storage and whatever else that helps us get away from fossil fuels,” he said.
Joelle Novey, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Interfaith Power & Light, introduced herself and talked about how her organization works with congregations in Maryland, Northern Virginia and D.C. on initiatives to reduce energy use, protect the environment and fight climate change. She encouraged people to visit the website, https://ipldmv.org.
“We’re really just celebrating what St. Matthew has done here,” she said.
The Rev. Blaise Sedney, St. Matthew’s pastor, said the church has received its first utility bill since the solar panels were dedicated in July, and its energy costs are “zero.” St. Matthew does have to repay the Lutheran Church Extension Fund, through which it received financing for the more than $500,000 solar field, for the next 12 years, however.
Margaret Martens, who lives in Bel Air, said she has been a St. Matthew parishioner for nearly 30 years. She thinks it is “wonderful” that her church is using solar panels, having served in a number of leadership positions in the congregation over the years.
“I understand the financial issues of a congregation, and it’s stupendous,” she said of the new project.
Martens said she attended Saturday’s seminar to learn more about solar energy. She plans to move to northern Michigan in the coming years, where her residence will be served by a rural gas and electric co-op. She noted that co-op is getting more of its power from renewable energy than “the national average.”
Audience member Dave Godbey, a Bel Air South resident, is a member of Harford County Climate Action. He has a 48-panel solar array on the roof of his house; the 11.2 kilowatt system was installed in 2011. Godbey said his roof faces south, so the panels are “not even visible to the neighbors.”
“We have perfect geometry,” he said following the seminar and a tour of the church’s solar array.
Godbey said he learned about community solar, noting he has friends who “I think don’t know about it, and they could save some money.”
He said his house is still tied into BGE’s grid, which serves as a backup battery supplying power. The spring and fall are the best times to generate solar power for his home, while more power is consumed during the summer because of the air conditioning and during the winter when the days are shorter and the sun is lower in the sky.
Officials with BGE conduct an annual inventory of his home power usage every March 31 and provide a rebate based on the amount of power produced during the year. Godbey said it is “the best feeling” to watch his electric meter tick backward when the solar panels produce energy and send it to the grid.
“Over one year we generate more than we consume,” he said.
Godbey also said the company that installed the panels eight years ago has honored warranties when parts such as inverters must be replaced.
“Make sure that you believe the company that you’re doing business with is going to be around for 20 years to honor those warranties,” he said.