A new wave of solar energy is coming onto the Maryland electrical grid, and Potomac Edison customers can now be part of it.
Neighborhood Sun, a Silver Spring-based company, officially opened subscriptions to the public in the Potomac Edison service territory last month for a nearly 2,000-kilowatt solar array that is planned to be built west of Frederick County in Williamsport, Maryland.
The project is part of the Community Solar Pilot Program, which allows Maryland residents and businesses to purchase a portion of their electricity from a community solar system and credit the power to their property in order to offset their monthly electric bill.
“It’s a new way people can access solar,” said Gary Skulnik, CEO of Neighborhood Sun and a longtime advocate of expanding renewable energy in Maryland.
The array — known as Rockdale Solar — is the first community solar project in the state to be available to the public, Skulnik said. Subscriptions opened on May 18 and will close when between 300 and 350 households sign up; then the project will be built, he said.
“The thing that’s great about community solar is that, as a consumer, you have that real feeling that if you don’t sign up, the project doesn’t happen,” Skulnik said. “So if we don’t get the project fully subscribed, it very well might not happen.”
Maryland has pursued community solar because it makes solar energy available to people who cannot afford or cannot physically install panels on their homes or businesses. There are multiple reasons why that may be, including renting a property rather than owning it, shading on roofs or structural problems with the roof.
The General Assembly and Gov. Larry Hogan approved the pilot in 2015 and turned the program over to the Maryland Public Service Commission to establish rules. One stipulation of the pilot is that some of the developed capacity must be set aside for low- and moderate-income households.
Businesses such as Neighborhood Sun are providing incentives to consumers to flip the switch to renewable energy.
Neighborhood Sun will facilitate and manage subscriptions to Rockdale Solar, which will then be built by Community Energy, which is based in Philadelphia.
The project has secured a rate 10 percent below the current Potomac Edison utility rate, which is already among the lowest in the state, Skulnik said. Residents will pay two bills: the first to Community Energy for their subscribed kilowatts at the reduced rate and the second to Potomac Edison for the remainder of their bill.
“We match the load to your household size. So the whole project is 2 megawatts — 2,000 kilowatts — which is massive. Your piece, in each household, might be 10 kilowatts, 5 kilowatts, 15 [kilowatts] — something like that. So each month, as that project produces power, we tell the utility what your portion is and they put those credits directly on your electric bill,” Skulnik said. “So whatever your electric bill was, it is going to be reduced by that amount.”
The average home in the Potomac Edison territory uses around 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month and is billed approximately $104. Buying kilowatts from the community solar site will save the user between $10 and $15 a month.
The subscription is a 20-year contract and includes an annual escalator of 1 percent, Skulnik said.
“You know exactly what you’re going to pay for 20 years,” Skulnik said.
Saving money on one’s electric bills is generally not the only motivator for people to invest in community solar, Skulnik said. A desire to fight climate change and support local power also tends to be a driver for people who go solar.
Skulnik has personally been fighting for clean energy in Maryland since 2000 and lobbied for the state’s original Renewable Portfolio Standard that sets the state’s green energy goals. He heard of community solar in Colorado, and liked the idea because it combined his passion for clean energy with buying locally produced power.
Skulnik also previously ran Clean Currents, which purchased and sold wind and solar power to residents and businesses in Maryland, Pennsylvania and D.C. but folded in 2014 after two weeks of extremely cold weather — known as the polar vortex — that sent energy prices unexpectedly skyrocketing.
Neighborhood Sun will also offer subscriptions to community solar projects in the Baltimore Gas and Electric, Delmarva and PEPCO service territories.
“This is our first year of operations with projects, so we’re dipping our toe in the water and getting used to it, but we have big plans for the company,” Skulnik said.