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Howard invests in solar energy

The Baltimore Sun

Standing in the bright sunlight atop the roof of the East Columbia library yesterday, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman showed off the government's latest energy project - 24 panels of solar receptors.

The panels are expected to generate about 30 percent of the building's energy and enthusiasm among residents for alternative energy, Ulman says.

To that end, the executive later directed a crowd of officials and reporters to the air-conditioned lobby to see an interactive computer display surrounded by colorful signs and books about solar energy. The exhibit shows library patrons how many kilowatts per hour of electricity are being generated in real time. And residents can view it on their home computers.

The $45,000 project is Ulman's latest attempt to push energy-saving alternative technology, along with hybrid county cars and buses, sponsoring legislation to encourage green techniques in homes and commercial buildings and buying wheeled recycling bins to distribute free to residents countywide.

"We'll use it as an educational opportunity," he said. "You put things in the budget and talk about lots of energy projects, but this is an example for government to play a leadership role."

Brian Auger, deputy county library director, agreed.

"Maybe it's going to get a few people thinking, 'I could do that. We should do that,' " he said.

Richard Deutchmann, CEO of Chesapeake Solar in Jessup, the firm that installed the 3-by-5-foot panels, said the system uses "less than half the materials and electricity to produce the same amount of solar energy." The array covers about 500 square feet.

As he stood on the library roof, County Council member Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican who also is an alternative energy expert for Constellation Energy, said he approved of the project.

"It's good to do some demonstration projects here and there," he said, though adding that the savings would be relatively modest.

Still, the solar panels can help take the edge off heavy energy demand in extreme weather, Deutchmann said later.

"It does max out when the grid needs energy the most," he said.

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