2021 | Green

Solar array on former landfill site will serve those with low to moderate incomes

Project near Gaithersburg expected to offset energy use of about 950 households

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Gary Skulnik, the CEO and founder of Neighborhood Sun, talks about a proposed solar array at a former landfill site near Gaithersburg on Monday. The roughly $11 million project will offset the power use of about 950 households.

Photo by Steve Bohnel

A roughly $11 million, 5.4-megawatt solar array is planned for 16 acres at the former Oaks Landfill, northeast of Gaithersburg.

The project will offset the energy use of about 950 households, according to county officials and partners working on the array. The array is expected to save roughly $300 annually for each household that subscribes to the solar grid.

County officials, community partners and a solar energy developer gathered on Monday to announce the project.

The array will be built by Ameresco, a renewable energy services company headquartered in Framingham, Mass. Lushae Cook, an account executive with Ameresco, said in an interview that construction should begin in January or February 2022, and take about six to eight months. 

Cook said Ameresco has dozens of projects nationwide, including one planned for Anne Arundel County. He called the Oaks Landfill site the “perfect site,” given how long the landfill has been out of use. Toxic gas is no longer present there, he said. 

“It’s out of the public view, which oftentimes can be a hindrance when you’re thinking about solar,” Cook said. “So I think it’s just the perfect location.”

The contract for the array is 25 years, but county officials can extend that in 5-year periods, Cook said. 

County Executive Marc Elrich told reporters Monday that the solar array helps meet the county’s climate goals. The county’s Climate Action Plan seeks to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 2035, and cut them 80% by 2027.

The project will be the newest of more than a dozen countywide, he said. And because the array can only be used by low- and moderate-income households, it prevents them from being displaced due to the county’s climate energy goals, he said. 

County officials said the project will be the largest solar farm nationwide to allocate 100% of its power for low- and moderate-income residents. Neighborhood Sun, a solar energy company with an office in Silver Spring, will sell the energy credits to subscribers countywide.

Gary Skulnik, the CEO and founder of Neighborhood Sun, said solar energy subscription is kind of “a magazine subscription,” in which users subscribe to the monthly output of the solar farm to match their household’s usage. For instance, small apartments have smaller shares than larger houses, he said.

The energy utility, in this case Pepco, then puts solar credits on the customer’s bill as if they had a rooftop solar array, Skulnik said.

There should be more projects like the one at Oaks Landfill, he added. But there are multiple challenges, including the Agricultural Reserve, a need to incentivize more businesses to put solar on their rooftops and a lack of open space for projects.

Skulnik called on county residents to think of people who might qualify for the project. Moderate-income households, the higher level that would qualify, can’t make more than $66,000 annually, he said.

“If you have neighbors or people you know in the county that could use a little savings and can help support clean energy, I encourage everybody to check it out,” he said.

Subscriptions to the Oaks Landfill solar array site can be found here

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com