University of Maryland Medical System goes in on a solar energy farm in Baltimore

Source: By Meredith Cohn, Baltimore Sun • Posted: Sunday, April 24, 2022

The University of Maryland Medical System announced Thursday that it is partnering with a local firm to build a solar energy farm in Baltimore to provide power to its hospital system, employees and residents.

Billed as an environmental and equity effort, the project with Baltimore-based WeSolar Inc. would produce 8 megawatts of power from a community solar farm.

The energy would be generated by a solar panel array at a central location rather than from individual rooftop panels and would be available to under-resourced communities.

“Partnering with WeSolar is an incredible opportunity for the system to engage with a local company that, like us, is focused on ensuring the vitality of our community,” said Dr. Mohan Suntha, UMMS’ president and CEO, in a statement. “Not only does this project make good business and economic sense for our system, but it is also an opportunity to demonstrate our responsibility as anchor institutions in the communities in which we are privileged to serve.”

The project is in the early stages. The medical system is committing $10,000 per month for up to 18 months to build the farm, though the final cost could exceed that amount and the start date could be sooner or later.

The location is a yet-to-be-determined site in the city. WeSolar didn’t respond to a request for more information about the selection process.

The hospital system, anchored by the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, plans to buy half of the 8 megawatts generated.

The plan also is to allow system employees who earn less than $67,000 annually to buy their homes’ power from Baltimore Gas & Electric at a discount. Officials say they will have more information on that program in time.

“Our company’s mission is about equity,” WeSolar CEO Kristal Hansley said in a statement. “Our main goal is to reduce the bills of low-to-moderate-income customers by at least 25%.”

Hansley said she founded the company in 2020 to help lower the energy costs for underserved communities that typically spend a greater share of their income on their energy bills than higher-income households. She believes community solar farms make renewable energy more accessible because people don’t have to buy panels, or even own a home, but can buy or lease a share of a nearby farm.

The energy goes to the electric grid and the customers get a credit on their power bills from the local utility.

The company has three farms so far, one in Washington, D.C., and two in Maryland. Those are in White Marsh and Marriottsville and both sold out, according to the company website.

This is the Maryland medical system’s second foray into solar energy. Officials announced another project in 2013 on the Eastern Shore with Bithenergy and Constellation. That was a 3.66 megawatt project, and officials said the system now buys about 2% of the system’s energy from a 25-acre solar farm in Somerset County.

A single megawatt can power between 400 and 900 homes, depending on a variety of factors such as climate.

The extra 8 megawatts from the city farm won’t make a huge dent in Maryland’s overall electricity production, but will contribute renewable energy at a time when Maryland consumes far more than it produces. Imports account for about 75% of the energy used, state figures show.

Among energy produced in Maryland, about 41% comes from its nuclear power plants in Calvert County, 38% comes from natural gas and 9% from coal, according to the Maryland Energy Administration.

Renewable sources accounting for the remaining 11% of production were from solar, hydroelectric, wind and biomass plants.

Maryland has set targets for renewable energy and revised them several times, with the current goal of 50% of energy coming from more environmental sources by 2030. Solar power now accounts for about two-fifths of the electricity with 1,250 megawatts installed.