SMECO’s solar farm in Hughesville has been operating since November 2012 and has generated nearly 17,000 megawatt-hours over the past two years.
The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), an educational nonprofit organization focused on helping utilities integrate solar electric power into their energy portfolios, recently named the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) as Electric Cooperative Utility of the Year. The award was announced during SEPA’s Awards Luncheon at Solar Power International in Las Vegas. Founded in 2005, SEPA’s annual awards recognize organizations and individuals advancing utility innovation, industry collaboration, and leadership in the solar energy sector.
"SMECO leveraged one of the advantages offered by solar—as well as being true to its co-op mission to bring value to the community it serves—when it chose to build solar within the co-op service area rather than purchase renewable credits from a distant resource," said Julia Hamm, president and CEO of SEPA. "The co-op also gained valuable hands-on experience with a new resource, inspiring a commitment to continue to expand its investment in solar."
SMECO earned the 2014 award as a result of its leadership and commitment to meeting Maryland’s renewable energy targets with locally generated solar power. As a regulated, single distribution utility with 156,000 customers, SMECO decided against the possibly easier path of fulfilling part of its renewable goals by purchasing renewable energy credits. Instead it developed a 5.5-megawatt (MW) solar project on land previously used for tobacco farming, which it financed by creating a separate entity that was able to take advantage of the federal income tax credits then available in the form of a Treasury Department cash grant. Going this route required the co-op to win special permissions and waivers from the Maryland Public Service Commission. A second, 10-MW project financed through a private power purchase agreement is scheduled to go online in early 2015, ensuring SMECO can meet its state-mandated renewable goals through 2018.