In an agreement that could stir interest across the nation, the Maryland Department of Transportation announced plans for a public-private partnership to “run a number of its facilities throughout the state with solar power, at no additional cost to taxpayers.”
MDOT said the state Board of Public Works, chaired by Gov. Larry Hogan, recently approved the plan.
MDOT Secretary Pete Rahn said that no capital funds will be expended to pay for the program, which could have solar panels installed at up to 35 MDOT sites within 18 months. It will use private contractors to operate the system under terms that supply energy to MDOT below what it currently pays.
“We want to run our facilities efficiently while saving taxpayer dollars,” Rahn said.
The announcement said the program is “one of the first of its kind by a state transportation agency in the country,” and is projected to initially “generate 298 construction and 28 operations and maintenance jobs, with more positions added as solar power expands to other MDOT sites.”
Up to now, some state DOTs have entered limited agreements under which private partners supply new roadway or facility lighting that cuts agency power costs, some DOTs have let solar panel operations set up in highway rights of way and some have introduced limited solar power at rest areas.
Many states DOTs are also deploying roadside, solar-powered traffic monitoring systems and overhead messaging signs to help better manage traffic flow by warning drivers in advance of upcoming congestion and the need to alter speed levels.
The Maryland department said that through a bidding process it “selected six master contractors who will compete to provide renewable solar energy for MDOT’s headquarters and the facilities of its business units.”
Those units are the State Highway Administration, Maryland Transit Administration, Motor Vehicle Administration, Aviation Administration, Maryland Port Administration and Maryland Transportation Authority. MDOT said it owns or controls more than 874 facilities, including buildings, parking garages and parking lots that could be studied for solar installation, but that not all structures will qualify.
MDOT said it will lease land to the developer, “who will construct, own, operate, and maintain the renewable energy infrastructure, without impacting existing parking or administrative functions of MDOT facilities.” The initial contract for construction of the solar facilities is five years, with a two-year renewal option.
Once the solar systems are in place, MDOT said it “will buy the power at a fixed rate for 20-25 years. For the project to be approved, the rate must be less than what MDOT would pay to the utility. MDOT expects its utility payments to drop from an average of 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour to 6 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour, which is a potential savings of 30 to 40 percent.”
Currently, the department uses 395,000 megawatt hours annually and estimates the 35 initial sites will generate about 46,000 megawatt hours per year. “The energy will be consumed either by an MDOT facility or by neighboring residents or businesses, which can subscribe as part of Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program,” it said.
“We are helping build a reliable and resilient energy source for our facilities and surrounding communities,” said Laura Rogers, MDOT’s Sustainability Program Manager. “This project will reduce air and water pollution, contribute to Maryland’s greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy goals, support local jobs, and increase Marylanders’ access to clean energy.”