Silver Spring Firm Brings Solar Power to the Neighborhood

A local firm has implemented a fresh approach to helping residents shift to renewable power despite difficulties posed by entrenched power generation.

Silver Spring’s Neighborhood Sun is involved in building solar panel ‘farms’ with the goal of giving more consumers the ability to choose solar-generated energy. In Montgomery County where land is at a premium, these are typically smaller farms built to fit available space.

For instance, construction on the Oaks Landfill solar farm in Gaithersburg is to begin this autumn on 16 acres that used to be landfill. All of the power it generates is reserved for low- and moderate-income residents who receive electricity from Pepco.

Despite a rising demand for renewable energy, the vast majority of Maryland’s energy comes from such non-renewables as natural gas and nuclear power, according to Gary Skulnik, founder and CEO of Neighborhood Sun.

Large power companies in 2020 used non-renewables to generate 79 percent of Maryland’s energy needs. The remaining 21 percent came from such renewables as solar and hydroelectric projects, said Skulnik during a presentation this week to the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board.

It’s difficult for most Silver Spring residents to install solar panels even if they want to, he said.

That’s because about 80 percent of the city’s residents may be renters or live in condos; the cost may be prohibitive; the shape or size of their roof makes installation unfeasible; and trees/buildings block the sun.

Neighborhood Sun’s focus is on customer acquisition and accounts management for local solar projects. It works to get residents to subscribe to a solar farm and receive a portion of their energy from the farm. the company currently has 359 customers in Silver Spring, according to a spokesperson.

A subscriber gets a designated share of the energy the farm produces based on the subscriber’s average monthly energy usage the previous year.

The subscriber continues to receive her electricity from her electric utility. The utility lists on the subscriber’s monthly bill the cost of the electricity she used that came from the solar farm, and the cost of electricity from traditional sources.

The consumer pays Pepco for the traditional power, and in a separate bill pays Neighborhood Sun for the solar farm power, which costs less to generate than standard power.

Neighborhood Sun says that since 2018 its projects have generated more than 214 kilowatts of energy, translating into 167 million pounds of coal not being burned. Its customers have saved more than $500,000 on their electric bills.

In another Silver Spring project, the Paddington Square Apartments last summer broke ground on a solar farm that offers a total of 91 subscriptions, with 28 set aside for low- and moderate-income households. Proponents claim the Paddington Square solar array will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 235 metric tons per year, the equivalent of taking 51 cars off the road annually.

Photo: © mvtstockshot / Adobe Stock

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