Maryland county will have the largest community solar project dedicated only to low-income residents

Montgomery County, MD

Montgomery County, Maryland will soon be home to the nation’s largest community solar farm fully dedicated to low and moderate-income (LMI) residents. Ameresco and community solar company Neighborhood Sun announced the first-of-its-kind solar farm bringing clean energy to thousands of LMI Montgomery County residents. The project’s partners, along with Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and other County representatives, launched the project’s subscription campaign at an event at the County Executive Office Building in Rockville, MD.

Community solar farms provide residents who can’t afford their own solar systems with access to affordable, clean energy. Anyone receiving an electric bill can participate, including renters, residents of multi-unit buildings, municipalities, non-profits and businesses that don’t own their roofs. By subscribing to this new program, Montgomery County residents who are on Pepco and qualify for low-income assistance can save 25 percent on their electricity costs every month.

Sited on the capped Oaks Landfill in Gaithersburg, the array transforms underutilized land into an environmental asset while bringing local jobs and clean, renewable energy to the community. Totaling 6 MW, the project is divided into three arrays of 2 MW each, generating approximately 11.7 million kWh a year. Array 1 is for use by the County and under a PPA, provides the County government with clean, renewable energy at no upfront cost. Arrays 2 and 3, will be the community solar project with 100% of the generated electricity provided to LMI residents.  

“It should not be a surprise to anyone that Montgomery County is creating the nation’s largest community solar farm that will create energy directed to low- and moderate-income residents,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “Our Climate Action Plan calls for us to eliminate 100 percent of carbon emission by 2035 and it is projects like solar farms that will help us obtain this goal. I am very thankful to Neighborhood Sun and Ameresco, Inc for helping us create this community solar farm. And I am proud of the work of the Department of General Services for delivering another solar project in Montgomery County with 18 completed and four under construction. This project is not only what is good for the environment, but it also serves Montgomery County families who need help with their energy costs as well.”

“The equitable and just deployment of renewable energy in the U.S. is critical to expanding our clean energy economy and addressing environmental injustice,” said Gary Skulnik, CEO, Neighborhood Sun. “As a Montgomery County business, we are especially pleased with the county’s support for expanding energy access into underserved communities.”

In addition to helping the County eliminate greenhouse emissions by 2035, this project will help Maryland reach its goal of utilizing 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Approximately 7.9 million kWh of energy is expected to be generated annually by the arrays dedicated to community solar. That is equal to preventing 5,599 metric tons of CO2 from being released each year or the equivalent to taking 1,218 cars off the road for one year and 6,188,031 pounds of coal from being burned. 

“This project blows away by an order of magnitude any other 100% LMI project in the state of Maryland, and is a testament to Neighborhood Sun’s leading role in bringing energy justice to the state,” Skulnik added.

“This project provides not only energy cost savings to the County and its participating low-to-moderate-income residents, but also leverages the use of an under-utilized land asset that will produce revenue for the County, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to its carbon neutrality goal,” said Ameresco Senior Vice President Jon Mancini. “Through this initiative, the County will demonstrate continued commitment to sustainability that will deliver economic and environmental benefits to the Montgomery County Community for many years to come.”

The project received a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration.

“The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) was pleased to provide for this project over $950,000 in grant funding through MEA’s Low-to-Moderate Income Community Solar Program, which provides incentives to reduce the cost of electricity generated from clean energy to Marylander’s, with income limitations that result in energy costs being a disproportionate portion of their household expenses,” said Mary Beth Tung, Director, MEA.

Regulators in Maryland recently voted to expand the capacity of the state’s community solar program as well as improve access for LMI customer participation in the state’s Community Solar Pilot Program.

According to Wood Mackenzie, community solar is expected to exceed 900 MW of annual capacity in 2021. Maryland ranks in the Top 10 states in community solar according to Q2 2021 installations.

Maryland-based Neighborhood Sun currently manages nearly 80 MW of community solar projects, enough solar to power more over 10,000 homes.

Project construction is expected to begin in early 2022.

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