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.”