By Andrew Gilligan
Vice President for Sol Latin America and Lead Sol Customer Solutions, Sol Systems
For 30 years, on the edge of the Nation’s capital; 20 acres of land deemed unsuitable for residential development sat unused within the small town of Capitol Heights in Prince George’s County, MD. In 2016, however, Sol Systems found a better use for it: a 3 MW solar energy project that now helps power one of the state’s most prominent businesses with affordable and clean energy.
Sol Systems was able to work with all relevant stakeholders to develop, finance; and deliver a solar project that is financially viable –generating revenue (or saving costs) for all involved parties – and doing so in a sustainability and community impact focused manner.
Solar means community involvement
When building a large-scale solar array within a community, transparency and communication are crucial to keeping your neighbors informed and comfortable.
After the initial project proposal and plan were created, Sol immediately began outreach in the surrounding area. Through door-knocking, community meetings, and digital outreach, Sol Systems ensured adjacent residents could ask questions and bring up concerns before construction even had started.
Sol worked closely with the town of Capitol Heights to make sure all of the town’s needs were met during the zoning and permitting process. Sol Systems secured state and county-level approval for the project through the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity process and Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission Mandatory Referral process.
The project will contribute approximately $1.4 million in tax revenue to Prince George’s County over its service length.
Sol’s in-house engineering team designed the 3 MWdc solar project, which produces the energy equivalent to the annual use of 333 homes. The design also included 1.5 acres of newly planted and existing trees, including maple, oak, pine, and cedars, to serve as a visual buffer for the site.
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Collaboration with key stakeholders
The new plantings constitute a woodland conservation easement that will be conserved in perpetuity beyond the project’s life. As the project worked to offset carbon in the energy grid, Sol was able to bring new carbon consumers to life as well.
In unison, Sol Systems looked to secure a long-term investor in the project. Sol Systems successfully secured a deal with a large renewables capital investor.
Although WGL Energy Services would initially purchase the energy from the project through a direct connection to the grid, facilitate a virtual power purchase agreement (PPA), wherein an energy buyer without direct access to behind-the-meter solar can purchase the electrons generated by the array at a fixed rate ($/kWh) directly applied to their utility bill.
A major American company was secured as the offtaker under this arrangement, which will purchase the energy for 12 years. This large corporation can procure energy at a competitive price point, thus helping with economic savings in addition to sustainability goals.
Working with our construction partners, the project was built over six months, including two months of grading to prepare the installation site.
As the project reached completion, Sol Systems and its partners celebrated the success with a ribbon-cutting event that featured speeches by the CFO of the offtaker, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, and U.S. Congressman Anthony Brown.
The event showcased the excitement at the local, state, and national level in Maryland’s public sphere, placing added emphasis on how much projects like these mean for the state’s private sector, providing one of the state’s largest companies with access to renewable energy. A memorable start to the life of a unique project.