Ballenger McKinney wastewater treatment plant 4 (copy)

The Ballenger-McKinney wastewater treatment plant.

County officials and other participating parties broke ground on a roughly $3.3 million solar array for the county’s Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management.

The Ballenger-McKinney Photovoltaic Solar Project, which includes the construction of a 1.3-megawatt photovoltaic solar array on 4.9 acres, will save the county up to $127,000 annually, Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner said in a press briefing Wednesday.

Kevin Demosky, director of the Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management, said after the briefing the solar panels will be able to provide backup power in the event both commercial power lines to the wastewater treatment plant are disconnected.

Demosky added that’s rare — it’s happened only once in his 30 years of working in county government.

Ameresco, the company that is constructing the solar array, is still working on completing the engineering for the project, he said.

“We’re thinking the permitting and the engineering phase of that won’t be completed until early February,” Demosky said.

He said the overall project will be built, tested and ready by June, weather permitting.

The project is being funded by a state grant of about $2.43 million. The state Board of Public Works agreed last month to increase the grant by roughly $430,000, after cost estimates came in higher than expected.

The extra money should allow Frederick County to add four hours of battery backup power. That could be the difference between not having an overflow and having an overflow into the nearby Monocacy River, Demosky said Wednesday.

“It buys us time in the event that ... we would lose both feeds of power,” he said.

The project is also being constructed in partnership with the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, which is managing the project. Chris Skaggs, executive director of the authority, said in the press briefing it will be similar to projects his group has worked on in Howard and Montgomery counties, and thanked county staff for their assistance in the project.

The project stems back to 2017, when the county applied for money through the state’s Energy Water Infrastructure Program to build a large solar array to offset some of the wastewater plant’s electricity costs. Battery backup was included in the application as a possible add-on item.

Demosky said the long-term cost savings of the project is one of the main reasons the county pursued it. Currently, operation of the wastewater treatment plant costs the county an average of $70,000 per month, for electricity alone.

“That’s the primary driver,” he said. “If we can trim our electrical costs to the tune of [about] $130,000, that’s significant money we should take advantage of.”

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter: @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.

(22) comments

Astrognome

A good start to the immense amount of work that needs to be done to ensure that the next generations inherit a livable planet. I'm happy to see Frederick moving in the right direction.

FrederickFan

This solar project accomplished a number of things that the article doesn't address. First it generates renewable energy and saves the county money. Second, it provides an alternative backup for the wastewater treatment plant which really can never go offline without huge negative implications. Third, it is environmentally friendly and helps the county to meet renewable and sustainable energy goals that are not mentioned in the article. The county will get a higher annual return as electricity prices rise over time and they will get the financial benefit of renewable energy credits also not covered in the article. So, the payback is much better than this article would have you believe but they left out all that information. Then, if this offsets the use of electricity from coal or other foasil fuels it reduces air pollution. These solar projects should last for 30 or 40 years with little to no maintenance. This is a win win . The article is lacking in detail.

jerseygrl42

Good news but did they really have to take yet another half million$ for a once in 30 year need...these folks just thrive on spending and wasting other peoples $$$

expensivepaper

What is it’s expected life? Because based on the figures in the headline, it will take 26 years to break even! (Not including maintenance costs or project overruns...). 26 years! And it is to solve a problem that only happens once every 30 years. This is not a good use of money. For a fraction of the price put in a backup diesel or gas turbine. Seriously people.

MD1756

Not that simple for the electrical needs for a wastewater treatment plant. The solar array primarily reduces the need to purchase electricity but can also be used as a backup with the use of batteries. The primary purpose is not as a backup system as you seemed to have inferred from the article. It doesn't make sense to purchase a diesel or gas turbine as a backup when it may only be used one every 30 years. Costs for solar as continually decreasing and many panels have a warranty that the panel will still produce 80% of the power after 20 years. The panels themselves will last longer than that and still produce electricity while being environmentally friendly compared to using fossil fuels. It is the right thing to do.

Crusty Frederick Man 64

Cost estimate off by $430,000 but yet we are suppose to believe the savings and payback numbers are right on. And the big bonus 4 hours of battery back up! I think I will send the County a battery operated pencil sharpener for Christmas.

shiftless88

The calculations for cost savings are pretty well set and automatic. The siting costs are variable depending on the state of the site.

pappyjoe

Curious is the solar panel set-up maintenance free for 30 years? If so it will be a good investment.

secpol1970

Its anything but maintenance free. Not worth the cost.

shiftless88

Essentially maintenance free. No moving parts. Clean them up now and again.

FrederickFan

It is good news that the county is moving toward renewable energy. Cost savings will have greater value overtime as the cost of electricity rises and that needs to be factored in by those of you doing simple math on the payback. Plus this is sustainable and better for our environment.

DickD

When you subtract the state grant of $2,243,000 and divide the remainder by the cost savings annually of $127,000 the payback time is less than 7 years. Of course, this does ignore the cost of money. So realically the payback is a little longer. However, it also ignores the potential of sewage overflow. How you would caculate the value of not having sewage spill is difficult to say. In my opinion, it is huge.

Thank you, Jan.

ma23464

Dick, the county currently has backup generators to prevent sewage overflow in the event of a power outage.

At 3.3 million for this project it will never pay off. Government wasting money. Would of been nice to use that 3.3 million to improve schools and roads in the region.

DickD

If you look at the total cost, yes, it would take 26 years to pay off. And that ignores the cost of money. But when you look at it from the perspective that our taxes would go to the State anyway, this would pay off in less than 7 years.

As far as money for schools, it would be nice to get more from the State, but you aren't going to get that. You need to be pragmatic and realize what is possible.

MD1756

A payback period of 7 years would be a little over a 10% (relatively risk free) rate of return. A payback period of 10 years would be a little over 7% rate of return. That by itself should be enough to say we should move forward. When you look at the environmental benefits, it should be a no brainer. I would go further to say that all new construction should include solar and geothermal. At current interest rates and energy prices any development (and lets just focus on homes for this example) would actually generate a positive cash flow for the owner. The county, state and country should be doing more to promote these projects and technologies for new construction at the very least. In the long run they generate a positive cash flow and are good for the environment.

ma23464

While solar is great, it’s simply not economical at this time. It’s only economical when you can use someone else’s money. In the private sector they are using it as a tax shelter. Facebook builds solar panels to save in taxes, then they tell everyone they did it to save the environment. The masses cheer for more of the same. This is why the rich get richer and the middle ground continues to loose ground. Solar will not be economical until energy cost rise and solar becomes more economical

MD1756

Coal, Oil and natural gas are all subsidized (you may not realize that) especially since they don't pay for the true costs for the human and environmental health harm they cause (and that's not including climate change costs since there are those who still refuse to believe the facts have been established at least by a preponderance of the evidence if not beyond a reasonable doubt), so why shouldn't incentives be included in the cost benefit analysis? Coal, oil and natural gas are more expensive than solar when all things are considered. Not to mention using solar protects others from chemical trespass (facility owners/operators discharging their pollution onto others' properties (legally or illegally) without each individual property owner's consent thus taking away the property rights of others.

glenkrc

1756 - Renewables receive much greater subsidies than fossil fuels (you may not realize that). On a per-unit-energy basis, renewable subsidies are ~100 times greater than those for fossil fuels.

https://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/pdf/subsidy.pdf

So, we realize that this ~$3 million cost comes only because other Federal and State subsidies are acting elsewhere in the acquisition/design/construction process. The “true” cost is at least ~$4.5 million, and likely much higher.

MD1756

glenkrc, is easy for people to say that when looking at "Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy" subsidies only, but when looking at the true total costs, by not making fossil fuel completely responsible for the environmental harm caused during exploration, production and consumption all of us pay the cost regardless of how much we do or do not use the products. For example, I have to limit the amount of tuna fish salad I eat (the only seafood I care to eat) because of mercury contamination primarily from coal fired power plants, petroleum refineries release huge amounts of benzene (a know carcinogen) legally and illegally. I'm sure someone who develops cancer from living near a petroleum refinery doesn't care whether or not the benzene was released legally or not. The medical costs for allowed emissions are great (asthma attacks, hospital trips, lost wages etc.). In the production stage coal mountain top mining for example, reduces the scenic views (potentially decreasing tourist revenue) and destroys waterways by dumping the overburden into stream valleys among other issues. And let's not forget the big impact of uncontrolled CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use. Here are some references relating to costs and human health/environmental impacts: Harvard - http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2012/why-sustainable/ Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) which references other source - https://www.energyandpolicy.org/value-of-solar-versus-fossil-fuels-part-two/ includes the following: "A recent study from the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment estimated the economic, environmental, and health costs of coal... When factoring in the cost of all of these externalities Harvard University concluded:

The best estimate for the total economically quantifiable costs, based on a conservative weighting of many of the study findings, amount to some $345.3 billion, adding close to 17.8¢/kWh of electricity generated from coal. The low estimate is $175 billion, or over 9¢/kWh, while the true monetizable costs could be as much as the upper bounds of $523.3 billion, adding close to 26.89¢/kWh...." EPI further states "...As for burning natural gas, the non-climate damages reported by the NRC were an average of 0.16 cents per kWh. Burning natural gas, which is mostly methane, results in significant reductions of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulates. But methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A study by the Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that unless methane leakage rates were kept below 2 percent, “substituting gas for coal is not an effective means for reducing the magnitude of future climate change.”" So indeed fossil fuels are subsidized, just not directly by "Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies." It's time to stop looking at the partial costs that big energy focuses on and look at the total costs.

BunnyLou

26 years to recoup the investment. Not sure the technology will still sustainable in 25 years, but Jan can toot her horn though.

duffy5x

Yeah, the sun might go out....

Jleftwich

*sigh*

Math is hard, I guess.

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