The Salisbury City Council looks to follow the region’s push for alternative energy solutions as they consider proposals for wind and solar energy options to be incorporated into the rebuild of the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Mayor Jim Ireton has asked council to begin hearing proposals from solar and wind energy developers for projects that could be created to offset the electricity costs at the planned rebuild of the plant.
Ireton said he has been in touch with companies such as Pioneer Green and SolarCity about potential projects for the city.
The city is planning to rebuild the plant after $80 million worth of upgrades in the mid-2000s left the plant in disrepair.
The plant was one of 66 around the state which were chosen to be upgraded to improve their nutrient-removal capability, with benchmarks to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus output by 70 percent.
However, after city leaders chose a first-of-its-kind technology amidst promises it would reduce maintenance costs and remove more waste and bacteria from treated wastewater, the facility failed to meet Maryland Department of Environment standards.
The city took years suing the developers of the plant, eventually recouping a total of $12.7 million in settlements by the end of last year.
Council president Jacob Day said the new $66 million rebuild of the plant will be funded by $30 million in various grants and awards given to the city by the state along with a $36 million loan from the state the city is applying for.
Day added the $36 million loan is more of a formality and it is his understanding the city is merely negotiating the terms of the loan, as the city is seeking a 0 percent interest agreement with the state.
Ireton and council’s interest follows a number of recent municipal and county renewable energy projects throughout the Eastern Shore, including Wicomico County’s own project to generate all of the county’s electricity through solar panels.
“What we recognize is that we have an energy need. We consume power,” said Council President Jacob Day. “(The plant) is one of the largest consumers.”
While Day weighed heavily on the financial and environmental benefits, Ireton said he wanted whatever agreement the council reaches “to make sure there’s an opportunity for job creation in Salisbury” with the development of a renewable energy solution.
“It’s very important,” he added. “They’re going to have to give us some sort of number (of guaranteed jobs). Many times in our history, we have lured a business here and they have brought all the jobs with them from somewhere else.”
Day said the rebuild is expected to start “in the next few months” and the rebuild is expected to take between 18 to 24 months.
While talks are still in the preliminary stages, with council and Ireton merely discussing the various options that are available with developers with footprints in the area, Day said council is serious about including a new energy solution as part of the plant’s rebuild.
The council president pointed to Wicomico County’s proposed solar panel farms, which are estimated to cut the county’s yearly electricity bill in half if council approves the project.
“The biggest reason why is because this is hot now. Hey, it’s happening. Why don’t we learn from the good work they’re doing,” said Day. “In principle, there’s the potential for both saving tax dollars and achieving a more environmentally sustainable and progressive energy source for the city.”