With plans to go online at the end of December, Norwegian Energy Solutions and Services will hold a ceremony Thursday to show off its section of Nixon’s Solar Farm in West Friendship.
Located off Route 32 near Interstate 70, Nixon’s Solar Farm is home to five 2-megawatt solar energy generating sites. It’s a net-metered site — which means energy produced there is credited to the meters of purchasers.
The 97-acre solar farm was created by Bithenergy, a Baltimore energy engineering and technical services consulting firm.
The first two phases of the farm are dedicated to Chimes International, a nonprofit that provides services to people with disabilities and special needs, and the Columbia Association.
“Bithenergy has done a really great job on Nixon’s Farm,” said Christy Spencer, chief development officer at NESS, which will take on the third and fourth phases of the farm for Christ Church Harbor Apartments in Baltimore and Baltimore City Public Schools.
“No one wants to see the sprawl of solar everywhere, and this project is clustered in one small area that doesn’t impact the community,” she said. “The county and state should use the Nixon’s Farm site as an example of how to do solar.”
NESS Inc. is headquartered in Oslo, but opened a Maryland satellite office in May on University Boulevard in Ellicott City that is home to 10 employees.
Spencer, who lives in Marriottsville, said she understands that some people are concerned about the visual impact of solar farms on the countryside.
“But they should know that solar can’t just go in anywhere,” she said. “This farm happened to be in the right place to connect power lines to a substation.”
NESS has a 20-year lease for its section of the farm, with two five-year options to extend.
The company is subleasing from Bithenergy, which, in turn, is leasing from the family of the late George W. Brown. The former owner of Total Construction Services in Ellicott City had submitted the winning bid of $2.5 million for Nixon’s Farm when it was auctioned in 2010.
Brown had originally intended to build as many as 90 homes on one-acre lots, Spencer said, but abandoned that idea five years ago. He died in September at age 72 after suffering a stroke.
The farm, purchased by the late Roosevelt Nixon in the 1950s, was the former site of weddings and other social events, and was operated in the 1960s as Glenwood Country Club. Nixon’s widow, Mildred, changed the name to Nixon’s Farm after her husband’s death in 1972.
The couple’s younger son, Randy Nixon, still lives with his family on a smaller parcel of Nixon’s Farm, Spencer said. Mildred Nixon, who had also resided on the property for many years, died in March at age 89.
Renewable energy developer SunEdison was set to operate phases three and four at Nixon’s Farm, but the company declared bankruptcy in April 2016, Spencer said. NESS got involved with the project soon afterward.
“We’re a financier and developer, so [we said] we’ll step in and complete it, and use it to highlight our commitment to renewable energy,” she said.
Rob Wallace, director of technical sales at Bithenergy, where his father, Robert L. Wallace is CEO, had befriended Brown after he purchased Nixon’s Farm.
Rob Wallace said he suggested to Brown that he drop plans to build homes in favor of a renewable energy project following a 2012 change in the state’s septic regulations.
Power52 Energy Solutions, a solar energy equipment supplier and nonprofit foundation, is developing the fifth phase of the project, which will be dedicated to the Living Classrooms Foundation, a Baltimore nonprofit.
Power52 is owned by Rob Wallace, Cherie Brooks and former Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis. The foundation trains and employs at-risk youth in the clean energy industry, some of whom will work on the NESS project, Wallace said.
Norway’s ambassador to the United States, Kare R. Aas, is expected to attend Thursday’s ribbon-cutting event at teh farm and give a speech on his country’s commitment to renewable energy.
Mary Beth Tung, director of the Maryland Energy Administration, is also expected to attend.