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McCormick & Co. turns to solar power

The Baltimore Sun

McCormick & Co. plans to announce today that it will begin using solar energy at its distribution center and spice mill in Hunt Valley by early next year.

The spice maker signed an agreement to have Constellation Energy build a one-megawatt solar power system at the two facilities, located at its headquarters campus. McCormick will purchase electricity generated by the system from Constellation.

The two companies did not disclose financial details.

The solar energy project will be McCormick's largest effort at its U.S. facilities to use alternative sources of energy, said Alan Wilson, McCormick president and chief executive officer. The company also uses enhanced recycling efforts at its office facilities, and it installed energy-efficient lighting at its plants.

Constellation said the solar system will reduce McCormick's greenhouse gas emissions by 1,000 metric tons a year and cut its electricity costs by about 30 percent during the first year.

"It's good for the environment, but it is also good for the bottom line because it will reduce our energy costs," Wilson said.

About 2,800 crystalline panels, which are the more traditional solar panels that are heavier and used on sturdier roofs, will be installed at the spice mill. The distribution center will get about 80,000-square-feet of thin solar film. Each roof will generate about 500 kilowatts of energy.

The use of total renewable energy sources, such as solar wind, hydropower and geothermal, is growing as traditional energy prices rise and more companies look to improve their environmental public image. The use of these energy sources grew by 32 percent from June 2007 to June 2008, the latest figures provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It accounted for 11 percent of net electricity generation in June, compared with 8.6 percent a year ago.

Maryland homeowners flooded a state program with applications for grants to build solar systems this year just a few weeks after the money became available. There was a waiting list for the program for the first time in its five-year history.

Howard County unveiled 24 panels of solar receptors atop the East Columbia library this summer that are expected to generate 30 percent of the building's energy. General Motors announced in August that it plans to install 8,700 solar panels on the roof of its White Marsh transmission plant by spring through a partnership with Beltsville's SunEdison, North America's largest provider of solar energy services.

Nationally, companies such as Kohl's, Wal-Mart, Safeway and Whole Foods have also begun initiatives to use solar power.

Energy experts said that tax incentives provided by state and federal governments are also driving increased interest in environmentally friendly energy efforts. Constellation said it will receive a 30 percent tax credit for the McCormick project.

In last week's legislation to bail out the country's financial companies, Congress included an amendment to extend by eight years a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar energy projects at residential and commercial buildings. The legislation also allowed utilities to be eligible for the credit for the first time.

"The passage of the investment tax credit last week in the bailout bill will stimulate corporations to do more," said Peter Lowenthal, executive director of the MD-DC-VA Solar Energy Industries Association. "Companies have a tremendous amount of income, and they would like to shelter some of that in their tax write-offs."

Under the McCormick deal, Constellation will own the energy assets and sell the electricity under a 20-year agreement. McCormick said in a statement that the agreement allows it to use renewable energy sources without large upfront capital investment. The project will account for 30 percent of McCormick's electric energy needs at the two plants, Constellation said. The energy supplied by the effort will equal the electricity used by 110 homes annually, the companies said.

"Right out of the gate, it improves their carbon footprint," said Gregory S. Jarosinski, president and CEO of Constellation Energy's Projects & Services Group. "It reduces energy use at peak periods because that's when the sun is shining and electricity is normally more expensive."

McCormick said the solar project will have a large impact on its overall renewable energy plan because the spice mill is the company's largest milling and grinding facility.

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