Maryland uses ARRA funds to nearly triple private investments in solar

The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) said Monday that its $9.4 million Project Sunburst initiative to install solar on public buildings has netted more than $36 million in private investments. The program created 80 jobs and supported a total of 9.3 megawatts of new photovoltaic installations 17 different state and municipal facilities.

Project Sunburst, a $1 per photovoltaic watt grant program, was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The largest awardee under the program was the City of Baltimore, which received $900,000 to support the installation of a 900-kilowatt solar array. Some of the awards were to counties, while others were for towns or colleges, said MEA spokesperson Ian Hines.

“They have different constituents, different needs and abilities,” he said. “The awards helped to make sure that these investments could happen with no upfront costs.” For instance, Montgomery County’s Shady Grove Processing Facility used a grant to support the installation of a 280.8-kilowatt array.

The county signed a 20-year power-purchase (PPA) agreement with SunEdison, which financed the project. Because of the grant, Montgomery County didn’t pay any upfront cost for the system.

“Project Sunburst didn’t lower the cost of the project overall. But it lowered the periodic costs of the PPA to make it more affordable,” Hines said.

The funding also helps reduce the overall costs of the project for the award recipients while also reducing their electric expenditures.

“They’re going to save money over the long term and be able to use that savings in the way they think is best,” Hines said.

While the primary goal of the program was to make it easier for public entities to go solar, it had a secondary purpose, according to Hines.

“It had an additional goal or larger goal to encourage the growth of solar energy generation in the state as a resource,” he said. The investment helped give the industry an extra push that puts it over the tipping point as a maturing industry in Maryland.

But Project Sunburst has run its course.

“I don’t expect it will continue in the same fashion, but we’re very pleased with the results,” Hines said. “With the market growth, I do think the solar industry in Maryland will continue to grow.”

Image courtesy of Montgomery County.