MD community solar project touted as a step forward for renewable energy

On a mild mid-May earlier this year, officials from an unusual assortment of public and private organizations and businesses—including two energy companies, Loyola University Maryland, Howard County and St. Mary’s Coptic Church – gathered at the church’s property in Cooksville to break ground on a long-anticipated project.

That project is the so-called Catherine Community Solar project, which will provide solar power to a variety of beneficiaries and is being touted by those involved as a valuable step in helping Maryland reach its goal of 50% renewable energy production by 2030.

“These kinds of projects demonstrate the flexibility, diversity and impact of solar energy in the market and in local communities,” said Matt Preskenis, senior vice president of Strategic Partnerships at Pivot Energy, one of the two energy companies involved in the Catherine project. “Investments like these will make Maryland a leader in clean energy.”

Pivot Energy is a Colorado-based company that finances, owns, and manages solar and energy storage projects across the country.

The project’s second solar company, Chaberton Energy, is based in Rockville and helps develop solar projects and distribute the energy they create.

The Catherine project is due to be completed by late spring of next year. The bulk of the power generated at the 17-acre site will help power the church and Loyola University, a Jesuit Liberal Arts University in Baltimore.

A smaller proportion of the power will be set aside for “community solar” – solar energy available to public or private entities who either cannot or do not want to install solar on their own.

Tracy Harvey, Loyola’s sustainability director, said the project, coupled with an earlier project the school launched with Chaberton, will offset nearly 20 percent of the school’s annual energy consumption.

The new project will provide the school with affordable energy at a locked-in rate over 25 years, she added, and helps advance some of Loyola’s sustainability goals, such as investing in clean energy.

“We are really excited about Project Catherine and are supporting a community solar project so Maryland residents can have access to cleaner energy options,” Harvey said.

Howard County officials were equally enthusiastic. “Chaberton and Pivot’s partnership with Howard County is instrumental in efforts to expand our solar energy capacity,” said Howard County Council Chairwoman Christiana Rigby, who attended the ground-breaking.

“Expanding our solar infrastructure supports initiatives to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and gas and demonstrates Howard County’s commitment to promoting renewable energy.”

Stefano Ratti, CEO of Chaberton Energy, said his company developed Project Catherine from inception to construction.

“We worked with the landowner to set up the land agreements, obtained all necessary permits from the county and other authorities, obtained permission to interconnect from the local utility, and designed and engineered the project,” he said. At this point, he added, the project is owned by Pivot Energy, which will operate it

Pivot is involved in nearly 100 other solar projects in various stages of development in 11 states – including four other sites in Maryland.

One of those is Project Friendship, located just a couple of miles from Project Catherine, in West Friendship

Project Catherine, Ratti said, “is a great example of the benefits that solar can bring to our local communities.

“The Church will benefit from lease payments and lower electricity costs, local residents will be able to subscribe to the community solar project and will see reduced electricity costs, the county will receive tax income while having to provide no additional services.”

In addition, he said, the surrounding agricultural areas will benefit from the pollinator habitat that will be established at the site, which boosts crop production and the ongoing construction generates local economic development and some job opportunities.

And, of course, Ratti said, Loyola University Maryland, the “anchor tenant” for the project, will see its electricity costs drop dramatically.

All of this will be accomplished, he said, on property that is completely unutilized now – “and virtually invisible from any neighboring property.”

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