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Solar energy companies have approached St. Mary’s County government about building facilities on open properties, specifically at the old landfill sites in Clements and California.

But those companies wanted exclusive agreements with county government. The county commissioners agreed last week to offer non-exclusive agreements to interested companies.

“I think the county has taken a proactive approach to solar power,” Rebecca Bridgett, county administrator, said Wednesday. “By offering a solar agreement to interested vendors, we enable our landfills to offer an alternative energy source. It’s really a win-win. The agreement offers a true community partnership opportunity.”

There is a three-year-old solar panel installation at Carver Elementary School in Lexington Park that produces about 77 percent of the school’s power, said Larry Hartwick, director of design and construction of schools. The 500-kilowatt system’s solar panels are arrayed on 1.5 acres and on the school’s roof, which produce 660 megawatts of power a year, he said.

Otherwise there are no large-scale solar farms in St. Mary’s. There is one on 33 acres in Hughesville, owned by the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, and another proposed by SMECO in Waldorf.

Three years ago, a company proposed using 20 acres of state property south of Lexington Park, but that fell through. Now another company is looking at the same site on the Elms property to install an array of solar panels.

“On several occasions, the county has been approached by private entities who were responding to Pepco and SMECO requests for proposals as a part of all utilities in Maryland being required to procure a certain amount of renewable energy or renewable energy credits,” the commissioners were told in a memorandum from George Erichsen, director of St. Mary’s department of public works and transportation.

Those entities seeking exclusive agreements were interested in 20-acre sections of the Clements landfill and St. Andrew’s Landfill in California. The landfill at Clements closed in 1989. The St. Andrew’s Landfill operated from 1974 to 2001, according to public works and transportation.

“For several reasons, including insufficient time and detail provided by the requestors, the county was unable to be in a position to provide any meaningful assistance,” Erichsen wrote.

Developing a nonexclusive option agreement “would not provide an unfair competitive advantage to a single entity,” he wrote.

Future options could include a fixed ground lease of $25,000 per year per site, Erichsen wrote, or revenue sharing of 3 percent of gross sales to the utility provider, which could produce between $700,000 to $1 million per year per site depending on the scale of the solar energy facility.

Erichsen estimated each old landfill site, if converted to a solar farm, could produce between 2.2 and 3.2 megawatts of electricity, which would be enough to power 400 homes from both sites. “I can’t think of a better use,” he said, for an old landfill site.

By comparison, SMECO’s Hughesville site is 5.5 megawatts, measured by how much electricity can be generated at its peak.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources had a proposal in 2011 from a company to build a 4-megawatt solar facility on 20 acres of the 1,020-acre Elms property. The state began buying the property in 1975 as a possible site for a power plant, but since then the land has been used for environmental education and recreation.

That applicant was unable to secure a power purchase agreement, said Frederick Kelley, of the power plant research program for DNR. But since then, another solar developer is working with the state for another 4-megawatt project on the same 20 acres, which have since been cleared of abandoned buildings left there. That project still has to go through several more reviews and processes.

Maryland law requires that 2 percent of the state’s energy, or 1,200 megawatts, come from solar power by 2020.

St. Mary’s County government has a pilot solar energy project at the public works and transportation facilities in California, and the three welcome signs coming into St. Mary’s County will soon be solar powered, Erichsen said. An energy audit of county government’s 47 facilities is being conducted to determine which “would be best suited for conversion to solar technology based on their respective return on investment,” he said.

“Solar power is definitely a technology we are interested in,” he said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com