A prominent company known for its electric cars is building a solar array at Frederick County’s landfill, which will power multiple county facilities.

Mike Marschner, the county’s special administrative director and the project manager, said Tesla is building the array of solar panels after three or four years of working through permitting with state and county officials.

The panels, which are being placed on top of a geosynthetic cap at one of the facility’s closed landfill sites, will produce a maximum of about 1.9 megawatts of power. A total of 7,776 photovoltaic modules will produce 3,669,961 kilowatt-hours of energy in the array’s first year — enough to power about 10 county buildings or facilities, roughly 20 percent of the county’s general building power needs, Marschner said.

Marschner said the county entered a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Tesla, where it will pay 6.6 cents per kilowatt-hour during that time span. The county is not purchasing additional power through the agreement, but rather using the array versus other forms of energy such as steam or coal.

The power will be routed off the landfill site by Potomac Edison, through a virtual net metering system. That system allows the county to receive solar credits for excess solar power produced.

“The value to us, because you are in this virtual net metering mode, is we don’t pay for certain things that you normally pay for when you’re buying commercial power from the power company,” Marschner said, adding those could be fees and other charges from Potomac Edison.

Aaron Ruegg, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., which owns Potomac Edison, said workers are currently completing off-site work such as fuse upgrades, along with on-site upgrades to connect the array to the company’s power grid.

“In general, any electricity produced by the customer and sent back to the grid offsets any electricity used by the customer during a particular month,” Ruegg said in an email. “Any electricity produced by this project will be used to offset electricity used by Frederick County. The power produced by this solar array will be used by customers near the facility and on the same circuit line as the solar array.”

County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said the array will help the county increase its reliance on renewable energy. Maryland officials want a quarter of the state’s power to be from renewable sources by the end of next year.

“Putting solar on a closed landfill cell is a good thing to do,” she said. “It’s a good location because that land can’t really be used for anything else. And we have to monitor that closed landfill cell in perpetuity.”

Melissa Rocha, a spokeswoman for Tesla, declined in an email to state the construction cost or share why the company was interested in pursuing a solar array at the county’s landfill facility.

General information on Tesla’s website indicates that “an average-size solar panel system generally costs $10,000 — $25,000,” which includes installation costs but does not include rebates or tax incentives.

Marschner said commercial operation of the project is scheduled to start July 1. The project is estimated to be at least 93 percent efficient through its 20-year life span, he added.

The panels could be replaced beforehand, however, depending on how much technology improves.

“New panels that come on the market are better, can produce more energy and maybe have a different rate of decay in terms of output,” Marschner said. “What happens is you wind up replacing them, not because your panels have failed, but because there’s panels that can generate a third more or a half more energy.”

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@Steve_Bohnel.

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(32) comments

mrnatural1

MD1756 and Dick:

WRT what Potomac Edison and other utilities pay when they purchase electricity -- from any source -- don't they pay something less than the total, bottom line amount that they charge customers per KWh?

I haven't looked at a bill lately, but the last one I saw had numerous line items -- "transmission", "fuel surcharge"; "CEO needs a new private jet" fee, etc.

I know nothing about how the finances work, but I'd think they would pay their "Standard Offer Service" (SOS) price -- currently about $0.07/KWh.

Is that not the case?

Just curious.

MD1756

We don't get paid unless there is a surplus at the end of their year (which I think is 3/31). With net metering it's like a bank account. The months I produce a surplus, the amount of the surplus goes into my account. Months that I don't produce all I use, I draw down from that account until it reaches zero at which point I pay full price. Every moth (regardless of generation or usage) I pay two fees for being hooked to the grid. The minimum is a $5.00 fee and a $0.36 fee. Both goes up as you purchase energy from the grid. So, obviously based on the per kWh charge, those with no solar will pay a greater fee. As far as distribution, the surplus electricity I generate goes to my neighbors (not much maintenance costs there and almost no line loss since the electricity is transmitted such a short distance) and they till pay Potomac Edison the full price for distribution so again when someone tries to argue the costs of maintenance they are only using the numbers the utilities would have you believe, not the total cost differences and certainly not the cost difference considering environmental impacts. Some would still want to keep their cheap dirty power while making those of us who produce cleaner power pay our externalized cost (which is much lower than their externalized cost).

DickD

MD, you don't know where your electricity goes when it is fed back onto the grid, no one does. And it means that the grid is paying retail prices that they can get wholesale from power generation. And you are putting that power back onto the grid randomly. That means that the grid has to balance out their electric load or blow transformers. Add in the power that they have standing idling because it is not needed and you have a nightmare. Because they have generators idling and they are paying retail cost for the electricity you put back online they are losing money. That money has to be made up by customers without solar. And that's why eventually the grid will be raising the distribution cost. Which I told you previously. The grid management is just now waking up to their accounting problem of how they make money. They have been a monopoly so long that their management has gone to sleep. But that will change.

MD1756

Sorry Dick but you're wrong. Any surplus electricity I generate is going to go where the nearest demand is which would be the next in line on my circuit. It's that simple. As far as the power company meeting demands, that is why they have peaking units. And, if there ever was enough solar/wind/other private energy generation, the power companies could retire their large outdated power plants and use smaller ones that are easier and cheaper to operate and pollute less. As far as night, I think most people don't use much electricity at night so again power companies are already ramping up and down on a daily basis. Finally, for balancing the load, I hope enough people wake up to where that becomes a real issue, but right now the power company has to already balance the load between generating stations and between peak and non peak times and to handle when everyone gets home from work and cranks up their A/C around the same time. Right now what is it maybe about 2% have solar, so having 98% shoulder the costs especially since they aren't paying the true environmental costs is nothing. Applying your logic, my income taxes should be reduced by the amount that goes towards educating children since I have none rather than actually paying more in income taxes since I do not get any income tax deductions or credits for having children. I'll make that trade off. I'll pay more for hooking up to the grid if I don't have to pay any taxes to educate children. The concept is the same, every pays for something they don't get back equally. The biggest difference is, what I'm doing is good for human health and the environment. When you have to pay the true cost for fossil fuel combustion (and educating children if you have/had them), then I'll pay the true (not made up) excess cost because I have solar or I'll organize a community coop and go off the public grid.

DickD

The grid pays the retail cost of electricity. Now that does not count about 6 other charges. And the problem grid companies have is that they can buy electricity wholesale for about 1/2 the cost of retail. That means that the solar electricity leaves them without a profit on the electricity.

For instance, you are a farmer growing carrots. You sell the carrots to a grocery chain and they send them out to the store to sell for a profit. But individuals can grow their own carrots, during the summer. So, the individual grows enough carrots during the summer to last all year. The individual doesn't want to store the extra carrots, so the store must buy them back at the same price that they charge everyone. Even though they can get carrots at half the price from the distribution center that has bought them from the farmer.

mrnatural1

Dick,

I'm guessing the public utility commission forces the utilities to pay retail, as a subsidy/boost for renewables?

MD1756

50% profit for a commodity? Are you sure? If so, that is outrageous especially compared to the dividends they pay the stockholders (owners of the company). I think you generalization about how it works is incorrect. I don't think it is generally true that grid companies control the market. Once upon a time around here there were no separate grid companies they were part of the overall utility. That is still true in places See: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.php?page=electricity_delivery. You keep talking about the harm to power companies' profits by solar without acknowledging all of the "external costs" that power companies should but do not pay. Various sources estimate the true cost of electricity from coal fired sources are $0.30 +/- and I don't think that counts all the harm from mining the coal. Your carrot analogy has the many of the same flaws as your other arguments.

brianbchurch

Super cool! Although Rhode Island doesn't get the most sun, it's still great for solar We've got the seventh highest electricity costs according to https://learn-solar.com/2019/01/31/solar-energy-in-rhode-island-2019/

jerseygrl42

mmarschner still collecting 2 checks from the taxpayers thanks to gardner despite lying to the citizens for years about the incinerator( and gardner is the one who signed the contracts that would have led to building the poison machine ) the two of them should be ashamed but unfortunately they have none

rpkrauss

Very cool! Now we need to convince Elon to build a space-x launch site at the old Alcoa property😃

FrederickFan

This is exactly what the county should be doing. The landfill is a perfect location for solar. Kudos to CE Gardner and her team for making it happen.

runjdon

[thumbup] Came here to write the exact same thing. This is an excellent use of that land.

KMRD1

And the county won’t let the Whitmores build on their farm. Total BS.

DickD

With that kind of power the County should start considering how to go off grid because net metering is still grid connected. In fact, the actual power used could be coming from anywhere off the grid.

One small town of several thousand people, Boonville, New York, has had their own power company for decades. Their cost to customers is only $.03 per kilowatt hour.

Can they put wind mills on this site too? Can they build water towers that uses extra power to pump water into storage and use the water fall during times of low power generation? Can they put in batteries for back up power?

We are in the first stage of changing our power and we need to be more innovative.

MD1756

Don't forget geothermal so you can lower your energy needs for heating and cooling. Solar on top and geothermal under would be good. I just don't like the appearance that it's ok for the government to profit from putting up a solar farm, but they greatly restricted others from doing so.

DickD

I thought the County restrictions were ridiculous. Apparently, they think so too.

gary4books

This is not farm land. How so?

DickD

The restrictions did not allow for any use, it was biased towards scenery, Gary.

gary4books

A landfill may be warm from chemical reactions and a good site for geothermal.

DickD

As long as the fumes from the site don't get into your geo thermal pipes. But why would you put geo thermal in a dump. You are not going to put any buildings there.

DickD

Geo thermal is very good and it definitely will cut the cost of heating and cooling. The problem I had with it was the need for 450' of pipe in the ground to meet my needs. The cost they quoted was $24,000 and it would have taken a very long time to break even, especially if you include the worth of money. Now costs may have come down since then..

What was really worthwhile was getting the blower test. The results before changes was over 2700. After changes it was slightly above 1500 and you don't want to go below 1500.

The initial cost was $4,000 for labor and material with Potomac Edison giving 50% back up to $4 000 of costs, which would have reduced my costs to $2,000. But they wanted to add 20" of insulation, I already had 10",which filled the rafters. With the ends open for air that meant insulation would be blown around. So, I complained and they offered a buffer - plywood along the sides. I considered that a Rube Goldberg fix. So, I went to another company. They put 7" of foam under the roof, sealed the ends with 5" of foam, put 5" of foam along the concrete blocks and the floor joists, put 4 inch bats around the cellar walls, sealed all the windows and doors with foam and extended the air pipes up through the roof - previously they were only taken to the attic. This cost $6,000, but it worked great and I am very happy with it.

MD1756

There was also the 30% federal tax credit which would reduce the cost significantly. If you have a well like I do, I choose to have it dug deeper (from 170' down to 280' for the required heat transfer) and now I use my well water to heat and cool the house. Most of the water goes back into the well (some gets bled off when the outside temperatures drop to near zero), just at a different temperature than it entered the geothermal unit.

gary4books

It is not a secret that Tesla sells batteries for tha purpose. I do not dislike the grid and if it can buy back power, that may be less expensive than battery storage. I do not know how it works out now.

DickD

It works quite simple Gary. They put meter on the side that measures power sent back to the grid and power taken from the grid. It most likely considerably cheaper now. But as more people put solar on the roof they pay less money to the grid company. However, grid costs to supply power and make sure it is available 24/7 doesn't go down. This increases the cost to those on the grid without solar. To stay competitive the grid company will have to raise the cost of being connected to the grid for solar companies. Some grid companies have already started this. Another problem is the grid companies only have to give a percentage of the total connections for net metering. After that percentage is reached the grid companies are refusing to add more - example, Hawaii. Hawaii has a unique problem because their cost per kilowatt hour is $.35, most grid companies only charge about $.11 to $.15. In the Potomac Edison grid area we have one of the cheapest costs.

MD1756

There is less loss in the transmission of the energy from solar to the grid since the electricity generated from home solar production travels to your neighbors, thus saving the utilities some costs. Additionally solar production reduces the need for more peaking units. How much those cost savings balances out, I don't know, but it is not just a straight increase in cost. When you add in the environmental impact that utilities are currently not paying, it would actually save a lot of money if utilities (and customers) pay their true costs from electricity generated from more environmentally damaging sources such as coal and natural gas. For more info see: https://news.energysage.com/solar-energy-vs-fossil-fuels/ , https://www.skepticalscience.com/print.php?r=364 , and from the union of concerned scientists: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils

MD1756

Dick, you keep writing about the costs solar puts onto the utilities and thus customers that don't use solar but you continue to ignore the true costs of that electricity. Please read more to become better educated on the "hidden" or subsidized or externalized costs of fossil fuels.

DickD

MD, it's not that I don't know about fossil fuel costs, it's just that I look at my bill for my cost and compare it to solar. Probably, I should pay more attention to the fossil fuels cost, but I was looking strictly at my cost.

MD1756

Dick, at least when you post about the potential costs of solar (and to date, I don't think anyone's rates have gone up with Potomac Edison because of the added solar) you should acknowledge that fossil fuels have been getting the equivalent of a subsidy since they only control a portion of their emissions and their emissions do adversely impact human health and the environment. While I don't know of any adverse health impacts I've suffered yet due to electric generation from fossil fuel sources, I don't know it has impacted my seafood intake. I only like tuna fish salad (because of all the other ingredients that hide the fish flavor), yet I limit my intake of tuna because of the mercury contamination it contains (the largest source of contamination comes from coal combustion). With our current knowledge we should be requiring greater controls on coal fired power plants (and others) because of the unpaid costs. Studies are showing that all of those coal ash pond/impoundments, etc. have contaminated the groundwater with heavy metals thus poisoning individual drinking water wells of those living near the coal fired power plants. Here is some information about the contamination (from a group that is run by a former EPA enforcement office director): For Texas alone: https://www.environmentalintegrity.org/reports/groundwater-contamination-from-texas-coal-ash-dumps/ , and then nationally: http://www.environmentalintegrity.org/reports/coals-poisonous-legacy/ (spoiler alert (100% of Texas coal ash pond are leaking contaminants, 91% (with industry monitoring data) nationally are contaminating groundwater with unsafe levels of toxic pollutants.

DickD

MD, your idea on geo thermal is good, whether you eat tuna or not is not part of the problem. Right now the rates for the grid are not distributed correctly. Not correct because the grid connection cost will not reimburse the grid company for the care, maintenance, trouble shooting and administrative costs. This means those on the grid are supporting (subsidizing) those that use net metering as the cost is ridiculously low compared to the actual cost to maintain the connection and guarantee good service. You maintain Potomac Edison has not raised their costs, which is true, it is not true for all grid companies and eventually Potomac Edison will be forced to raise their prices for the true costs of net metering - just to remain competitive.  Below is the analysis from the Edison Electric, it also explains net metering better than I have, for Gary.

Institute: http://www.eei.org/issuesandpolicy/generation/NetMetering/Documents/Straight%20Talk%20About%20Net%20Metering.pdf

How Are States Dealing With The Cost Shift Created By Net Metering? Almost every state is looking at different solutions to reform net metering to address the high costs and cost shift caused by outdated net metering policies. These solutions range from legislative action to policy changes directed by or at state utility regulatory commissions. In December 2015, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission found that net metering resulted in a $623 cost shift per rooftop solar customer in southern Nevada. The commission took action and updated the state’s net metering policy to change the rate paid for net-metered power to the same rate the utility paid for other sources of power. The commission also added a small energy charge and created a separate customer class for residential rooftop solar producers because their impact on the system is different from that of other residential customers. The Nevada PUC Chairman Paul Thomsen said, "The new rate is intended to ensure that the 98 percent of residential utility ratepayers who are non-solar customers do not subsidize those with solar systems." http://www.foxreno.com/news/features/top-stories/stories/controversial-solar-rate-changesstay-effect-9167.shtml#.VpsAbU3luok  "What Are Others Saying About The Need To Update Current Net Metering Policies? “When this rate structure is combined with net metering, which compensates residential [solar PV] generators at the retail rate for the electricity they generate, the result is a subsidy to residential and other distributed solar generators that is paid by other customers on the network.” The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Future of Solar Energy, May 5, 2015 “In short, net metering is regressive political income redistribution in support of a putatively progressive cause. Several states including Hawaii, Arizona, and California have recently proposed changing their netmetering policies to reduce the cost shift. In October, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission cut by roughly half the rate paid to new solar customers after finding that the subsidy was unnecessary to encourage solar adoption. Nevada’s regulators went even further by slashing payments to existing solar customers from retail to the wholesale rate and raising their fixed charge for using the grid. Solar can strain the grid because the sun doesn’t shine all the time.” The Wall Street Journal Editorial, December 28, 2015 “The PUC rightly decided that allowing panel owners to collect retail rates for their surplus power unfairly burdened the rest of the state's power customers. Going forward, solar customers will have to pay more for their connection to the grid and get by with wholesale rates on their surplus electricity.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial, January 2, 2016 " 

MD1756

I guess we will not agree on this one because you are apparently ok with the pollution caused by the current electric generation and distribution system, and the fact they power companies don't have to pay the cost for the harm they cause. When it comes time to pay the piper, if I'm still alive, I will demand that I don't pay anything since I've already gone carbon neutral/negative with my home energy use with my solar and geothermal. Can we apply the not having to pay for something to public education? I have no children yet a majority of my state/local taxes go to some form of supporting children (education, food, programs, health programs, etc. I could save thousands of dollars per year on taxes if I weren't charged for something I don't have and don't want.

DickD

But I am concerned, MD, about fossil fuels, Why do you think I went to an EV in 2012 and have a hybrid car today? But, we need better answers than we currently have or had, when I was doing my investigation of solar. Soon, it will be cheaper to use solar/wind generation than fossil fuels. Right now the grid companies buy back excess solar generation from residential customers at the residential rate. This prevents them from making their normal profit.

MD1756

Dick, I'm going to use a word I hate "paradigm," but as long as Frederick is going to nix "solar farms" or put other significant restrictions on them, the way to fight climate change (and other serious pollution issues from fossil fuel burning especially from coal) is to have a "paradigm shift" where individuals are encouraged to take responsibility for their own carbon footprint. They can and should generate the energy they need from resources on their own land (and can currently do so at a profit). I've installed solar that in theory would make my home energy use negative (too many cloudy days last year but I was close to carbon neutral). If more people did that (especially before having children) you wouldn't need the big central power plants and you wouldn't need the expensive peaking units they add to meet the high demand in the summer for cooling. You would be able to get by with smaller, more local units and not have to worry as much about transmission lines stretching hundreds of miles. You would no longer have to worry about coal ash ponds failing and contaminating peoples sources of drinking water of killing those who clean up after a catastrophic failure (as is happening with the TVA Kingston incident see: https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/crime/2018/03/28/tva-coal-ash-spill-cleanup-roane-county-lawsuits-dead-dying-workers/458342002/). In addition to being better for human health and the environment, more people can earn a profit from resources on their own property.

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