Country’s largest community solar project opens in Fort Washington

FORT WASHINGTON — Nautilus Solar and Neighborhood Sun held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new community solar project in Fort Washington, the largest community solar project in the country, on Oct. 7.

The 6.6-megawatt community solar project, located at the intersection of Tucker Road and Palmer Road, was initially announced last year. The project broke ground on Nov. 30, and although it was expected to have opened in March, the project finally got up and running this week.

“There are a lot of things to celebrate. To get one of these systems completed takes a lot of hard work and a lot of partnership among a lot of people…all the way from landowners to the permitting, all the way from the permitting through construction, the financing, and the asset management,” said Nautilus Co-CEO Jim Rice.

Based in New Jersey and named after the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, Nautilus Solar is a national solar acquisition development and asset management company which operated solar power systems all over the country at a total of $1.2 billion in investment.

Founded in 2006, Nautilus Solar focuses on acquiring, developing, executing and managing distributed and utility-scale generation solar projects.

Over the last 10 years, the company has invested in hundreds of megawatts of solar projects and provides asset management services to distributed, community solar and utility projects.

Although Nautilus Solar operates all over North America, this will be the first project of its kind in Prince George’s County. As part of the Pepco service territory, the project will serve 1,200 subscribers making it what its owners believe to be the largest residential community solar project in the country.

Nautilus Solar acquired the project from co-developers Summit Ridge Energy LLC and SynerGen-Solar, LLC, who are both developers and financiers of community solar power plants across the United States.

Another one of their partners in the project was Neighborhood Sun, a Maryland-based community solar company that advocates for clean energy and the use of solar power. They have managed the subscribers for the new community solar project.

According to Neighborhood Sun CEO Gary Skulnik, the journey towards getting this project off the ground began way back in 2000, where he and Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) Founder Mike Tidwell started advocating in Annapolis for a renewable portfolio standard bill.

Nautilus Solar and Neighborhood Sun held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new community solar project in Fort Washington, the largest community solar project in the country, on Oct. 7. Photo by: Jessica Ricks/The Prince George’s Sentinel.
It later amounted to the Community Solar Pilot Program in 2017 where customers can save money on their electric bills, private investment in Maryland’s solar industry is encouraged, the state’s energy resources are diversified to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act goals and Marylanders to benefit from more clean energy options.

Because of this, community solar allows customers who would not usually have access to solar energy to reap the benefits of it, such as those who rent apartments, and for residents of all income levels to use it.

“Back then, this is exactly what we had in mind when we were lobbying for three years to get that little bill passed,” Skulnik said. “We had in mind that we were going to have local, clean energy right here in Maryland. It didn’t happen right away, it took several years and several new bills and all kinds of iterations.”

Not only does community solar allow people in all locations and of all income levels to utilize solar energy, it helps to not only “fight climate change, not only produce local green jobs and keep our energy dollars local, these projects also clean our air directly and clean our water by offsetting local coal plant emissions,” Skulnik said. It also allows the community to reduce air pollution and water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

“I think there are several states that have this kind of progress, but we have the biggest and newest and the best so far,” said CCAN member Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa.

With 25 acres, 20,000 panels and 1,200 subscribers, Skulnik said the county’s community solar project is “a home run,” however, it was not that easy to gain so much support in the beginning.

According to Skulnik, Neighborhood Sun had a hard time gaining subscribers and interest in the initiative in their first few months of trying to get the word out to the community. At that time, people didn’t really know what it was, and it took a lot of education to get it off the ground.

Then CCAN stepped in to help spread the word and inform the community about the importance of clean energy, and by working together, things started to change.

“I’m so glad that I can be a subscriber here in this capacity growing in the area, and to meet the demand that we are all creating,” said Ikle-Khalsa.