FORT WASHINGTON — A groundbreaking ceremony for the first large-scale community solar project in Maryland, hosted by project owner Nautilus Solar Energy and their customer acquisition management company Neighborhood Sun on Nov. 30.
“It is extremely important,” said Nautilus CEO Jim Rice. “We’ve done a lot of work on this project, we haven’t done a project in Maryland since 2009 or 2010, and so it’s great as far as this project in the community solar program. This is just the beginning.”
The ceremony took place at the construction site of the project, an unused landfill at the intersection of Palmer Road and Tucker Road, where members of Nautilus and Neighborhood Sun, public officials and current subscribers to the 6.6-megawatt Panorama Community Solar Project gathered. The project is set to open in March 2019 officially.
Nautilus, a national solar acquisition development and asset management company, based in New Jersey, acquired the project in August from co-developers Summit Ridge Energy LLC and SynerGen LLC who are developers and financiers of community solar power plants across the United States.
Neighborhood Sun, an advocate for community solar with the mission of empowering neighborhoods to utilize the service, has been gathering and managing subscribers to the upcoming Panorama Community Solar Project.
“This will have an impact in a few ways,” said Neighborhood Sun CEO Gary Skulnik. “One is that it is producing clean energy right here in Prince George’s County. So the more clean energy that we produce, the less polluting energy there is so that it will help in a little bit clean up the air with less greenhouse gas emissions. And also bring us power from our own backyard, we don’t have to get power from out of the state or overseas or anything like that.”
At this point, there are already 600 subscribers to the solar project out of the up to 1,000 that it can service.
“It’s amazing to see the fast pace of building the project because of the subscribers showing interest by signing up for community solar,” Skulnik said.
The goal of community solar is to allow anyone in the community to benefit from solar energy without requiring them to spend extra money on putting solar panels on their roof. Even those living in apartments and shady areas can benefit from it, and it is beneficial to all income levels.
“The great thing about community solar in general is that it’s open to customers that are not able to put solar panels on their homes,” said Nautilus Business Development Manager Andrew Rice.
“It allows customers to subscribe to the system and get the benefits of solar power without having to put a solar system on their roof. The impact that we’ve talked to our friends at Neighborhood Sun about is that the contract we’re offering is to be able to subscribe to is a five percent discount on the retail rate.”
The Panorama Community Solar project, one of the largest in the nation, went into creation in 2017, after the establishment of Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program.
The program is a three-year pilot program started by the Maryland Public Service Commission to make solar energy accessible to communities that might not otherwise have access to it like people who rent or live in apartment buildings.
By the time the project is finished, it will be able to power 800 homes throughout the Pepco service territory.
“I always felt it was important to have renewable energy,” said Anne Cross, a subscriber to the project who attended the groundbreaking ceremony.
In the past, Cross did not use solar energy because her property is in a very shady area and she would have had to put solar panels on the front of the house. Now that Nautilus is bringing community solar to the area, she can finally take advantage of its benefits and do her part to reduce the use of coal energy.
“I always thought community solar should be everywhere,” she said. “Pepco should be completely solar.”
Rice opened the ceremony with a few words of gratitude to Nautilus’ partners and subscribers followed by speeches from Skulnik, Department of Energy Undersecretary for Science Paul Dubbar and Chesapeake Climate Action Network Executive Director Mike Tidwell.
“As optimistic and as good as it feels to be here we know that the bigger picture is not so good on climate change,” said Tidwell, who was one of the lobbyists who helped pass the bill for the Community Solar Pilot Program.
“We had this massive international report in October that said we have 10 years to cut our emissions in half worldwide. We’ve got to get going in a hurry. You have national assessments that Americans are feeling the pain, impacts on their health and the economy right now due to climate change. So the news is not good on the climate science front.”
Despite the looming effects of climate change, Dubbar highlighted some of the strides the Department of Energy is making throughout the U.S. in clean energy.
The cost for a solar system such as this one has dropped 99 percent, Dubbar said. Ten years ago wind capacity factors were 23 to 25 percent and now are almost 50 percent onshore and 60 percent offshore, battery technology has advanced so that within the next year there can be significant improvements, and oil and gas production cost has decreased by two thirds.
“We’re doing things more efficiently, we’re doing things more cleanly, and we’re having a bigger impact due to, primarily, innovation.”
The Panorama Community Solar Project will not be the only large-scale solar project in Maryland shortly.
According to Jim Rice, Nautilus is working on similar projects in Howard County to begin construction in Spring 2019 and Baltimore County to begin in either fall or winter 2019.
“What’s amazing about this is the story we can tell with this project,” Tidwell said. “Below our feet are decades of evidence of an unsustainable economy. We are sitting on a landfill, the inefficiencies, the waste, the mountains of waste. Now we’re putting the future here. A clean energy system. A forever system. A sustainable system.”