By Kevin O’Rourke
The Montgomery County Parks Department is looking for public input on a proposal to construct a solar farm on property in the South Germantown Recreational Park.
The public can provide input at the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board meeting on Monday, February 9 at 7 pm.
The proposed solar farm is part of Montgomery Parks Solar Farms Initiative which build two such solar farms, one at South Germantown Park and another in Rock Creek Regional Park in Silver Spring. The solar farms would be constructed in areas with limited natural resources where no active or passive recreation exists or is planned.
A solar farm is an area of land where a large number of solar panels are set up to generate energy. The solar panels create power that can be sold into the utility grid and offset the cost of our energy usage and benefitting the environment as fewer fossil fuels are burned to create the electricity.
“Each proposed site equates to about five acres,” said Dominic Quattrocchi, a Park Planer with the Maryland-National Capitol Parks and Planning Commission. “No active or planned park uses will be compromised by the proposed solar arrays. These sites were specifically chosen in large measure because of their lack of use and lack of natural resources.”
According to Quattrochhi, the solar farms will reduce the carbon footprint equivalent to annual greenhouse gas emissions from 300 automobiles and will constitute a cost savings of up to $290,850 annually per two megawatt solar farm.
The solar farms would reduce the M-NCPPC’s dependence on nonrenewable resources and environmentally damaging extractive techniques. The solar farms are also consistent with M-NCPPC’s stewardship mission statement and Montgomery County’s energy initiatives and carbon reduction goals.
Quattrocchi, said the two solar arrays on would be constructed at no cost to the County as part of a Solar Power Purchase Agreement and third party financing.
Through a Solar Power Purchase Agreement third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic system, and a host customer, in this case the M-NCPPC, agrees to site the system on its property and purchases the system's electric output from the solar services provider for a predetermined period. This financial arrangement allows the host customer to receive stable, and sometimes lower cost electricity, while the solar services provider or another party acquires valuable financial benefits such as tax credits and income generated from the sale of electricity to the host customer.
With this business model, the M-NCPPC will buy the services produced by the solar arrays rather than the system itself. This framework is referred to as the "solar services" model, and the developers who offer Solar Power Purchase Agreements are known as solar services providers.
This arrangement will enable the Parks Commission to avoid many of the traditional barriers to adoption for organizations looking to install solar systems: high up-front capital costs; system performance risk; and complex design and permitting processes.
The two solar arrays on park property would be part of a 10-20 year lease, according to Quattrocchi. “M-NCPPC we will be able to remove the array at anytime during the lease if the underlying land is needed,” he said.
Quattrocchi said that the solar farms have the “potential to provide significant cost savings” in the park’s department’s annual electricity consumption to the tune of 9,467,640 kilowatts per year or approximately $1.1 million per year.
According to Quattrocchi, the construction of the solar arrays would not impact the public’s enjoyment of the park in any way. The site selected in South Germantown Park is behind a maintenance yard and the location in Rock Creek Park is on a dredge spoils site which is not suitable for public use at this time.
The public will have two chances for input and comment on these proposed solar farms, the first will be next Monday and another will be at the Montgomery County Planning Board meeting on Thursday, March 5.
Quattrocchi said, “The Park Planning and Stewardship Division of the Department of Parks will make a final recommendation to the Planning Board who will make a determination on the suitability of the sites and the project. The Planning Board takes public input very seriously.” Construction is planned for December of 2015.
Top: A solar array at a solar farm in Poolesville, which is similar to the type of solar farm proposed at the South Germantown Park and Rock Creek Park locations.
Next: A map showing the location of the the proposed solar farm within the South Germantown Park.
Photo and map courtesy of Maryland-National Capitol Parks and Planning Commission.