By Pete McCarthy
Gov. Martin O'Malley got a dose of clean energy Wednesday in Frederick County.
The governor joined in celebrating the completion of a 17.7-megawatt solar farm built on the campus of Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg. He then headed to Frederick to see the Nexus EnergyHomes project on Bentz Street, which is converting vacant land into a neighborhood focused on reducing energy consumption.
"Solar energy means Maryland jobs," O'Malley said at the Mount event. "Over the next 10 years, with efforts like this, we will be putting another 10,000 Marylanders to work on projects like this. There will be a day when solar panels will be as common as shingles on roofs."
University President Thomas Powell said this is one of the largest solar-energy farms in the country. Solar panels were installed on the east side of campus by Constellation -- a private company that is leasing the land and then selling the energy that is produced.
"The solar farm will not only produce clean energy, but it will serve as a learning tool for our university," Powell said.
David Bushman, dean of the School of Natural Science and Mathematics at the Mount, said the new addition will help educate students beyond what can be said in a classroom.
"Lots of students are really concerned about global warming, sustainability, natural resources," Bushman said. "The solar farm creates a backdrop and makes it real for them. It's not a learning lab in that it's a functioning power plant, but it is a way for us to build curriculum and apply learning in a very direct way."
Most of the power generated by the solar farm will be sold for use at the University of Maryland.
"Most say fear the turtle," Powell said, referring to the University of Maryland's mascot, the terrapin. "At the Mount, we power the turtle."
As part of the deal, Mount St. Mary's will buy back electricity to generate 90 percent of power needed to run the university's athletic complex and wastewater treatment plant on the east side of campus.
"Because of the choices we are making together, our state is at the epicenter of education, science and technology," O'Malley said.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th, focused his remarks on the significance solar energy has on more than the environment.
"What you're doing is doubly important," Bartlett said. "It's really critical to our national security."
In Frederick, O'Malley toured some of the houses being constructed on North Bentz Street by Nexus EnergyHomes.
The goal of the project is to create homes that are self-sufficient. About 20 of the 55 houses are still under construction. All work should be completed in six months, company representatives said.
"We all know we live in challenging times," O'Malley said. "The question is, what are we going to make of those times? Imagine what we can do to our urban cities when we redevelop in a way where people want to raise their families in cities."
Homeowner Melissa Joseph bragged that her first energy bill was 50 cents. The only charge was a service fee.
"I hardly use my air conditioner at all," Joseph said. "This summer, with temperatures around 100 degrees, not having to use AC to the max was a huge help."
She said there is no dust in her house, either.
"When I bought the house, they said it was going to be surgery-room air, and I didn't believe it," Joseph said. "I have pretty bad seasonal allergies, and I don't sneeze in the house."
State officials said they were impressed by the county's success.
"I think Frederick County is at the cutting edge of sustainability nationwide," said Malcolm Woolf, director of the Maryland Energy Administration. "Being able to offer Main Street "green' houses is decades ahead of the rest of the country."
Shannon Moore, who heads Frederick County's Office of Sustainability, said the county is a great location for solar energy farms. Other utility companies have contacted her about locating in the county because of the relatively inexpensive land, the amount of land and the amount of direct sunlight in certain areas, she said.
"Frederick County is situated very well to help to bring our region into energy independence," Moore said. "That's something to be excited about."
Before heading to Frederick County, O'Malley was in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday to counter the Republican National Convention. O'Malley, who is chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, was there to speak in favor of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, he said Wednesday.
Maryland Republicans were reportedly critical of the governor's trip.
O'Malley defended his actions Wednesday.
"I wouldn't have been down there if a hurricane had been striking my state," O'Malley told The Frederick News-Post. "I'm going to do everything in my power to help the president's re-election."