Solar lights up the Mount

Maryland's largest solar facility - for now - debuted today (Wednesday, 8/29) in Emmitsburg, with officials celebrating completion of the $50 million project at Mount St. Mary's University.

Gov. Martin O'Malley was to be on hand for the dedication of the 16.1 megawatt array, made possible through 20-year deals with the state government and university system to buy its sun-generated electricity.

The facility, developed by Baltimore-based Constellation - now part of Exelon Corp. - has been online since July.  More than 200,000 thin-film photovoltaic panels covering 100 acres of the school's 1,400-acre campus are expected to generate 20 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough to power 1,700 homes.

A smaller, 1.6 megawatt array built to supply electricity for St. Mary's has been operating since April.

The larger installation is the product of a three-year-old state initiative to spur development of commercial-scale renewable energy projects in Maryland, in which the government offered to sign long-term deals to buy the power generated by them, thus ensuring a guaranteed market.

Completion of the Emmitsburg project pushes the state's sun-driven generating capacity over 70 megawatts, according to state officials.

"This is going to be largest installed in Maryland for all of six months before it gets topped," said Malcolm Woolf, head of the Maryland Energy Administration.

A 29-megawatt solar array is under construction on state-owned land by the Maryland Correctional Institution near Hagerstown.  The $70 million project is being developed by Maryland Solar LLC of Annapolis.

Woolf said the two projects are just the most visible manifestations of a solar industry that has steadily grown in Maryland.  Large-scale facilities generating power to the grid account for about a fourth of the state's solar generation, he said, while commercial projects supplying power to businesses make up half.  The residential market has taken off in recent years, he added, as more homeowners opt to lease solar panels without having to pay to have them installed.

"We haven’t had the boom and bust that New Jersey and some other states have had," Woolf said of the state's solar growth. He attributed the growth to Maryland's law requiring power companies to get a small but increasing share of their electricity from renewable sources. 

Woolf said relatively stable prices here for solar renewable-energy credits, which go for about $200 per 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity generated, have contributed to the industry's growth by maintaining a stable market for the power.

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