Plunging ceremonial shovels into the ground at Saint Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Cooksville are, from left: Pivot Energy director of origination John Stroud; Howard County Council chair Christiana Rigby; Chaberton Energy CEO Stefano Ratti; Mill Creek Renewables Construction Manager Zach Witt; Del. Luke Clippinger; Del. Jessica Feldmark, Clippinger’s deputy chief of staff Will Shorter; Kimberly Shiloh legislative director for Sen. Benjamin Brooks (not pictured); and Loyola University Maryland Sustainability Program Director Tracy Harvey. (TBM / Jason Whong)

The mid-May groundbreaking on a project at Saint Mary Coptic Orthodox Church, in Cooksville, marked an important step for the house of worship, as well as Howard County and Loyola University Maryland, concerning the universal move toward solar energy.

The event, which marked the latest partnership between Denver/Elkridge-based Pivot Energy and Chaberton Energy, of Rockville, calls for the construction of the Catherine Community Solar project and Catherine Aggregate Net Energy Metering. ANEM will provide power to Loyola’s Baltimore City Evergreen campus; and a Behind-The-Meter project will provide power to the local church and the community. 

The $10 million-plus partnership not only comes as such projects are becoming more prevalent but also just after the ink dried on a new state of Maryland law that will boost such investment as the state moves toward its goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030. It takes effect July 1.

Pilot over

The partnership calls for Pivot to lease 17 acres for what was termed by Pivot “low-to-middle four figures” per acre per year for 30 years, with two five-year options. It also calls for the distribution of 750 kilowatts to Loyola, 177 kilowatts to the church and 3.4 megawatts of community solar to Howard residents. 

Pivot has been growing since it was purchased in 2021 by New Jersey-based Energy Capital Partners, “so we’ve gone from developers to asset owners. That infusion gave us resources to buy into projects that are developed,” such as the Catherine Project, said John Stroud, Pivot’s director of origination.

“We worked very closely with Chaberton during the early stages of development and will after build out to operate the five-megawatt project,” said Stroud. “At this stage, we are working with the church.”

Chaberton Energy and Pivot Energy’s Project Catherine, which is to be built on land next to St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in Cooksville, has three parts that can be seen in this aerial photograph: a 2-megawatt community solar project, a 500-kilowatt net energy metering project to supply Loyola University Maryland, and a smaller project to directly serve the church’s power needs. The church’s property is outlined in black. dashed lines. (Submitted photo by Chaberton Energy and Pivot Energy)

Community solar is “a good option for people who can’t put solar panels on their roof, as well as for building the tax base,” he said. “Developing the new properties has to do with where the land is in relation to the interconnection points since we have to hook it into the BGE grid.

“In the end,” said Stroud, “that allows us to offer affordable, clean energy at a discount.”

While the pilot program called for a capacity of three megawatts, that amount was boosted to five megawatts with the signing of the bill. “That means we’ll see many more opportunities,” he said, pointing out that “only 23 states have legislation to build projects for, and to sell, community solar.

“Maryland was already a proven leader and has the most ambitious solar goals of any state, though many people in Maryland don’t know that,” Stroud said, “as well as one of the highest solar carve-outs in the nation. It’s expected to reach 14.5% by 2028.”

Solid savings

From Chaberton’s perspective, the company “worked with the county for the last two years to involve the community, get conditional use permits and site plan approval for a field of about 7,500 approximately three-foot by six-foot solar panels,” said Chaberton CEO Stefano Ratti. “They’re mounted on metal racking with panels that rotate east and west on a tracker to keep them facing the sun.”

The installation also encompasses electrical equipment, such as switch gear, inverters and transformers. “Then there is more acreage behind the church that is not in use that backs to Interstate 70 by a Howard County Government maintenance yard,” Ratti said, “so there is really next to no visibility of the project from anywhere.”

The Catherine project is part of a portfolio of five area Chaberton projects. They are also operating in Fulton on Lime Kiln Road, and in Baltimore County, with two others on the Eastern Shore. There are more in development in Delaware, Virginia and other states.

As Stroud noted, “Community solar projects are becoming more prevalent.” Said Ratti, “and the state is behind these deals as well.”

What’s in it for the customer? Tracy Harvey, Loyola’s sustainability director, said the new deal is the university’s second power purchase with Chaberton, with the Friendship project (which involved Pivot, but not Chaberton) having begun three years ago. The savings for the Friendship deal are estimated to be $2.3 million over 25 years; with the savings for the upcoming Catherine project, which is slated to begin in late 2023, projected at $236,000 during a similar time span.

“What this does for Loyola is offset energy usage on our Evergreen campus,” said Harvey. “We jumped at the second chance to work with Chaberton, which has provided an effective avenue for higher education institutions in densely populated areas like central Baltimore City where there isn’t much land available to set up a solar farm.”

Top 5

Today, this approach is just gaining momentum with Maryland’s new law soon coming into effect.

Divesh Gupta, director of strategy, utility of the future for BGE, said, “Community solar is happening more often and as the interest from lawmakers about this innovation has resulted in more opportunity for solar in general. It can be in the field like at the church or on rooftops, in landfills, parking lots,” etc.

It also allows customers who live in homes “like apartments, condos or wherever to take advantage of clean solar energy,” Gupta said, “even if they can’t install it on their own roofs.”

In addition, “It’s flexible enough that it doesn’t need to be in a field that can be used to grow food,” he said, noting that BGE is updating its information technology systems “to meet the anticipated demand.” 

The hope is that community solar will now become a key element of larger projects.

While “Every state is unique, we’re looking for opportunities that can spur more developments,” said Stroud. “Maryland is in the top five and that means you can invest here with confidence.”