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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Berlin exploring options with solar garden

Last Thursday, Berlin released a request for qualifications regarding a community solar garden that could help lower energy bills for both businesses and residents in the town.
In a press release issued that day, Mayor Gee Williams touted renewable energy and said the town was looking for “an experienced firm who will be an effective partner as we plan for [the] future.”
The release went on to say that the garden would be a “shared solar array with grid-connected subscribers,” with homes and business receiving energy credits “as if the panels were on their own roof.”
Town Administrator Laura Allen, speaking during a phone interview last week, said the solar garden was consistent with the town’s values and follows naturally with its Sustainable Maryland designation.
“I think it’s just part of our effort to plan for the town’s future power needs in a way that’s sustainable,” she said.
She noted that Berlin currently operates a wind turbine, although she admitted “technical issues” have limited its production. Elsewhere in Berlin, she said more than a dozen businesses and residents have individual arrays.
“We’ve reached to 12-15 of those types of solar customers in town and we’ve talked to about half of them to get a sense of their interest in the community solar garden concept, and get a handle on why they were interested in solar,” she said.
Allen said there are several grant opportunities available to the town to fund the solar gardens, and that Berlin was looking to partner with a “private operator.”
“Part of what we’re going through the RFQ process to determine is the best way to structure that arrangement,” she said, adding that leasing equipment was a possibility. “We’re not sure the best way to structure this in the best interest of the town.”
Customers – residents and businesses – would be able to subscribe to either a portion of or an entire solar panel, and would receive energy credits on their electric bills in relation to the amount they subscribed to.
“One of the big questions we need to answer as part of this RFQ process is, is there a market for this or is the market already exhausted,” Allen said. “for the people who are interested in solar, have they already done what they’re going to do, or are there more people out there who would be interested in subscribing to something like this?”
If the array was not fully subscribed, Allen said the town would be responsible for purchasing the unused portions.
Asked about a timetable, she said federal solar tax credits were set to expire in December 2016 and that the town was hoping to “get something in place” before the deadline.
Allen also said there was a strong possibility the town passes on the project altogether.
“Depending on the answers that we get [from the RFQ] it may turn out that the timing is just not right for the town to get into this right now,” she said. “The market for power is at a lower point than it has been, so it may not work for the town to get into the community solar garden right now. We don’t know until we ask the questions.”
Williams, commenting during a separate phone interview last week, said the vast majority of Berlin’s power still comes from diesel generation and suggested solar gardens could offer an alternative, if the price is right.
“If this ends up making economic sense for our costumers and for the town, then I think it’s a natural fit,” Williams said. “It dovetails with some of the very fundamental values of Berlin today.
“It gives us an opportunity to lessen our carbon footprint by gradually, overtime [and] this would be at least our beginning on a local level to find a very environmentally responsible alternative for creating energy that would be used by our customers.”
He admitted that solar power was still in its infancy, comparing it to the first inning of a baseball game.
“We want to be careful and we want to look at every opportunity, but it has to make sense and it has to make sense for a town of our size,” he said. “We have to look at what’s practical for our particular system and for our electric customers.”