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Firm Proposes Solar Farm at State Prison Near Hagerstown

Fri June 17, 2011 - Northeast Edition
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HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) A private firm announced a $70 million plan May 20 to build Maryland’s largest solar energy project on the grounds of a state prison near Hagerstown to generate electricity for the wholesale market.

Maryland Solar LLC of Easton said it is seeking speedy approval by state utility regulators and a long-term lease on 250 state-owned acres surrounding the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institution. The company said it hopes to use inmate labor to tend the grounds and keep the thousands of solar panels clean.

If the 20-megawatt project is built, Maryland would join California in using open space around correctional institutions to commercially generate electricity from the sun. California’s prison agency said May 6 that more than 83,000 solar panels will be installed at five prisons there, with the state and contractor SunEdison splitting profits from electricity sales.

Such a profit-sharing arrangement is not part of Maryland Solar’s lease negotiations with the state Department of General Services, company Executive Vice President Jon Moore said.

The company said it hopes to begin construction this year and start generating enough electricity by December 2012 to power up to 2,250 homes. The project would help meet the requirements of a state law mandating that 20 percent of Maryland’s electricity be generated from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar by 2022.

“This is a truly unique project, and a great example of how public-private partnerships can create economic opportunity in Washington County while also significantly moving the state closer to its aggressive renewable energy goals,” Moore said in a statement.

The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Service said the project would make productive use of the land, some of which is currently being farmed under a lease that expires next April.

“This project also provides possible employment opportunities for inmates in our pre-release system. It’s a great way for us to tap into the growing green economy and introduce our offenders to the types of jobs it is creating,” spokesman Rick Binetti said in an e-mailed statement.

Maryland Solar was formed by Beowulf Energy, an Easton-based firm whose managing director, Michael R. Enright, was Gov. Martin O’Malley’s chief of staff and senior adviser before he left the administration last year.

Maryland Solar said in a filing with the state Public Service Commission that it must begin construction by December for the project to be eligible for a federal renewable energy tax credit. With that deadline just seven months away, the company requested an expedited review of its application for an operating license, called a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.

State law normally requires that such applications be filed at least two years prior to construction. Maryland Solar is asking the commission to waive that requirement and approve its application by mid-August.

Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group plans to begin operating a 17-megawatt solar farm at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg in 2012.

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