County eyes an acre of solar with EOC plans

Sussex County government is one step closer to supplementing some of its power supply with solar power. On Tuesday, county council members voted to authorize the spending of $44,484 – about 6.9 percent of the estimated $644,000 total cost of the renewable energy project – for services from engineering firm Davis, Bowen and Friedel, to design the installation for a 85 kw solar energy field near the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center, on the west side of the Sussex County Airport in Georgetown.

The project will be funded, in full, by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, explained Steve Hudson, director of technical engineering for the county.

Hudson proposed to the council a conceptual layout of four rows of solar panels – 408 panels in all – that will be placed on the ground and connected to the Emergency Operations Center, to provide about 15 percent of the EOC’s current energy usage.

He explained that rooftop solar panels wouldn’t work at the center because of their step roofing system. He said they had looked into other locations, such as the industrial water tower, but had to keep in mind the panels’ need for southern exposure, as well as a short distance to the building to be supplied with the power – both for maximum efficiency.

Hudson explained to the council that the approximately 200 foot by 240 foot area of solar panels – about an acre – will amount to between $12,000 and $13,000 of savings per year. He said the EOC currently spends about $86,000 on electricity each year.

Another source of income from the project will be solar renewable energy credits/certificates, or SRECS, which currently go for between $250 and $300 on the open market, Hudson said, which would account for an additional $30,000 annually.

Councilman George Cole noted that the county has a valuable piece of land in the site and questioned whether there might be future need for it, such as for a county building that could be leased. The council briefly discussed whether a building on the property, with solar panels on the roof, would make better use of the acreage, but county engineer Mike Izzo said it would be unlikely that a building that large would be needed, since the panels will take up an acre.

The council then discussed the portability of such panels, should a building on that site be viable in the future. Council President Vance Phillips added that a potential $43,000 income ($12,000 to $13,000 in savings, plus the SRECs) for an acre of land per year “wouldn’t be bad.”

There is a June 30, 2011, deadline for the solar project to be online and in operation, under the terms of the grant.