UMES solar farm garners local 'Environmental Star' honor
PRINCESS ANNE, MD – (Jan. 20, 2012) - The University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s year-old solar-energy collection system has earned it an environmental honor from two Delmarva businesses.
Mountaire Farms and WMDT named UMES an “Environmental Star Award” winner in recognition of the university’s pioneering efforts to make the campus and the lower Eastern Shore more “eco” friendly in its use of energy.
UMES activated a “solar farm” on a former cornfield in early 2011 and its 7,800 collection panels have been converting the sun’s rays into electricity at a healthy clip ever since. At the time, the 17-acre facility was among the largest on an American college campus.
UMES pursued the project with a private-sector partner, SunEdison, for educational and economic reasons. UMES invested no money in its construction, but arranged with SunEdison to tap into the electricity it produces at a long-term, reduced rate over a 20-year period.
Ron Forsythe, UMES’ vice president for technology and commercialization, saw the alternative-energy generating system as a way of cutting the university’s power costs while also exposing students to cutting-edge technology.
So far, the facility has met expectations during its first year of operation, Forsythe says, which is why the Salisbury TV station and the poultry producer singled out UMES for the honor.
Forsythe estimates the solar facility reduces the university’s reliance on the purchase of electricity by roughly 15 percent, thereby cutting energy costs and saving taxpayers money.
“One of the biggest benefits of the UMES solar farm is its helping drive down the cost of renewable energy so that it will be more cost effective for local owners and also helping to drive business growth in the region,” Forsythe told a WMDT reporter.
The facility also serves as a demonstration site that Forsythe hopes will inspire economic development, which is one of the university's missions as a land-grant institution.
Forsythe’s next project is nurturing partnerships between lower Eastern Shore farmers and private industry in developing wind turbines capable of producing 120-to-150 megawatts of wind energy.
“The goal is to keep as much of the profits and revenues of these projects locally and within local farmers' hands and within (the) neighborhoods of those farms,” Forsythe said.
Mountaire considers itself one of the “industry leaders in best-management practices, farm management and innovation on the farms as well as in the processing plants, and many other environmentally sensitive off-farm agricultural related practices.”
The company website says it created the Environmental Star program … “to publicly recognize the environmental excellence and creativity of individuals and organizations in the community that demonstrated their positive impacts on the environment.”
Marino called the UMES project a shining example of how colleges and universities can lead by example.
“Dr. Forsythe has been the visionary here to really make things happen," Marino said.
Bill Robinson, director, UMES Office of Public Relations, 410-621-2355.