Solar energy project breaks ground at treatment plant

Hurlock, Maryland
HURLOCK — It is hard to imagine that the 5 acre empty field adjacent to the Hurlock Wastewater Treatment Plant (HWTP) will be filled with solar array panels sitting on neatly trimmed green grass and saving the town 10-12 percent of its annual $250,000 cost for treating sewage. But that is what Hurlock officals anticipate when the solar energy project is complete in August.

“Saving town money,” said Myor Joyce Spratt in an interview with The Banner. “To me, that’s huge. That way we can use that money for something else.” VW Energy LLC constructs and maintains solar energy projects. She explained that the company approached the town a couple of years ago and, after all the permits and other requirements were obtained, the project broke ground on April 15.

“It costs us nothing. We did not have to pay a penny for it,” said the Mayor. “They (VW Energy) build it and maintain it. We have no grass to cut on those 5 acres, or anything. They put the fence up; they did everything. We didn’t even have to buy shovels for the groundbreaking.”

VW Energy President and Chief Operating Officer Jerry White explained that the Hurlock plant will be “one of the largest municipal solar powered electrical systems on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.” The treatment facility will have about 3,420 solar panels attached to 114 individual solar array tables. It will generate over 1,400,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy annually. The company estimates savings of over $500,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years.

Asked how the finances work, Mr. White said Hurlock entered into a 20 year agreement at a set yearly kWh rate over the period. “Basically the municipality and the solar energy company lock in a set price for the 20 years.” Historically, utility prices continue to escalate and customers “never know from one year to the next what their yearly utility cost will be. “So what they know with VW Energy is that they will have a close estimate of their cost per year to operate the treatment plan for the next 20 years. For a small community that is great news.”

VW Energy bills the town for treatment plant energy consumption. Asked what happens if there are cloudy days and the solar panels cannot produce enough energy to run the plant, Mr. White explained, “Then they would have to go back to the grid and get kilo hours from Choptank. We could probably provide all the electricity they need during the day during normal working hours. If they have pumps running at night to filtrate the wastewater, the energy might be getting low because it wasn’t a good day for the sun to generate solar power, then they might have to go back to the grid to get some.” Choptank would bill for the amount used in that case.

The business was established to “capture the tax benefits in building, owning and operating photovoltaic systems.” Mr. White is forthright in explaining that for the past several years there have been installation incentives offered for renewable energy products by federal and state jurisdictions including grants, tax breaks, discounts, and rebates. The Maryland Energy Administration is one of several agencies that recommend energy saving practices for industrial and business projects.

Hurlock is thinking “green.” According to the Mayor, “We’re going to do geothermal for the new police department.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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