Baltimore County plans to install solar panel arrays at four locations as part of a broad effort to improve energy efficiency and use more clean energy.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said Monday that the county will work with SolarCity to install panels with a total generating capacity of 21 megawatts of electricity at four locations: closed landfills in Woodstock and Parkton, and unused portions of Mount Vista Park in Kingsville and the Southwest Area Regional Park in Lansdowne.
SolarCity, a national firm with locations in the Baltimore region, will own the panels. The county signed contracts to buy electricity from the company for the next 20 years, with a possible extension for five more years. There is no up-front cost to the county.
In the first year, the county expects to save $450,000 in electricity costs.
"This is a smart use of government resources," Kamenetz said.
The cost of electricity will vary by site, ranging from $0.075 to $0.082 per kilowatt hour. The county currently pays between $0.09 and $0.105 per kilowatt hour to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. for electricity, officials said.
The solar panels will be installed over the next two years.
SolarCity has worked out similar arrangements with several other jurisdictions in Maryland in recent years, said Brett Eskay, a senior project development manager for the company. But Baltimore County's 21 megawatts will double the output of solar systems that SolarCity has installed for local governments in the state.
Eskay said a key factor in the deal with Baltimore County is having energy prices locked down. "They know exactly what they'll pay for solar power for the next 20 years," he said.
Such arrangements between institutions and solar companies are not new. The Community College of Baltimore County, for example, has solar panels on parking lot carports yielding 6.5 megawatts, installed last year at its Dundalk, Essex and Catonsville campuses.
CCBC's panels are owned by Constellation Energy and the college signed a 20-year deal to buy electricity from the company. The college expects to save $4 million on its electricity bills over the life of the agreement.
Baltimore County looked at a number of companies, then selected SolarCity, officials said. The county's contract piggybacks on a contract with Montgomery County. The deal with SolarCity does not need approval by the County Council.
Kamenetz also signed two executive orders on energy use Monday.
The first sets a goal of reducing the use of electricity in government buildings by 15 percent in five years. The second is a goal to get 20 percent of the county government's energy needs from renewable sources by 2022. Officials said the four solar panel fields will get the county to that goal.
The county has received a $390,000 grant from the Maryland Energy Administration to help reach those goals. The county will use $310,000 from the Maryland Smart Energy Communities Grant to make energy efficiency upgrades in county buildings, and $80,000 for renewable energy projects.
Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club, said Kamenetz's actions prove "solar energy is both good for the environment and fiscally responsible."
Just a couple of years ago, SolarCity officials were at odds with Baltimore County officials over rules for residential solar panels. SolarCity complained that county regulations differed from surrounding counties, allowing fewer panels to be put on residential roofs than other jurisdictions. That, they said, made it difficult to sign up customers.
Following lobbying by SolarCity and other firms, the County Council passed a law last year changing technical requirements so homeowners can fit more panels on their roofs.
The council also increased the amount of money available for solar energy tax credits. The county had put so little money into the program that some homeowners had to wait years to claim a credit.
"The council has done its part in moving solar energy forward," said Chairwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat.
County Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said he's heard some concern from residents about where the solar panels will be installed at Mount Vista, a park that is in his district. He said he hopes the administration can address such concerns before the panels are installed.