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Officials Celebrate Sustainability at Solar Array Groundbreaking

It took creativity, innovation and teamwork to make the Easton Sustainability Campus what it is today and will be soon, officials said Wednesday, July 19, during a groundbreaking ceremony for one of the campus’ new aspects — a solar field. The Easton Sustainability Campus off North Dover Road is a “portfolio of renewable resources,” Easton Utilities President and CEO Hugh Grunden said. Easton Utilities is entering its third phase for the campus with the soon-to-be installed two megawatt solar array, one that will completely zero-out the utility company’s cost to run the wastewater treatment facility and further reduce the campus’ carbon footprint. But it is just one of multiple phases that aim to help the environment and offset negative consequences of operations on the site. “Maryland has already been graded as the most innovative state in America, and I look forward to future developments at the Easton Sustainability Campus, which will help our state continue to lead the way,” Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday at the groundbreaking ceremony. Hogan was among many elected officials who attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Also there were Comptroller Peter Franchot, Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles, state Sen. Addie Eckardt and Del. Johnny Mautz, Easton Mayor Bob Willey and town council members, Talbot County Council members, and scattered throughout the crowd were people wearing matching blue polo shirts —Easton Utilities employees and commission members. All of them played a part in the effort behind the solar array and Sustainability Campus project.

Hogan said with the new solar array project, “Easton Utilities continues to demonstrate its longstanding commitment to renewable energy and environmental stewardship.” The solar project has secured $3 million in grant funding through the Maryland Department of the Environment. It was awarded to Easton Utilities in May. Franchot called the Board of Public works vote to award the money an easy one to make, due to its benefit to the town, county, surrounding communities and state. “When this solar array is fully functional, it will not only reduce the cost associated with operating the wastewater treatment plant, it will also eliminate the site’s carbon footprint,” Franchot said. “This is a win-win for the taxpayers. Also, for the electric ratepayers, it affirms our state’s commitment to investing in resources and supporting efforts to reduce pollution and carbon emissions in Maryland.” Hogan said the solar array “will contribute to a reduction in Maryland greenhouse gas emissions and will play a vital role” in helping the state reach its pollution reduction targets. Mautz said Easton is regarded in the legislature as a standard-bearer for where municipalities should be with energy policy. The town’s wastewater treatment plant was largely paid for with money from the Bay Restoration Fund, created by the state legislature to fund wastewater treatment plant upgrades that help reduce harmful nutrients discharged into local waterways, polluting the Chesapeake Bay.

Grunden called Easton Utilities’ wastewater treatment plant one of the “best performing plants in the state of Maryland,” and that it is “impressive the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus” removed from wastewater that eventually makes its way into the Choptank River and “one of the primary spawning areas for rockfish.” But, operating the wastewater treatment plant is expensive, a cost that will be eliminated when the solar array is up and running. The Easton Sustainability Campus is near the Mid-Shore landfill, where another aspect of the campus can be found. Easton Utilities has commissioned a generator — bought used from another landfill — that takes the methane gas emitted by the landfill and converts it into enough green energy to power 700 homes, according to Easton Utilities. Eckardt said the Easton Sustainability Campus is an innovative project, brought upon partly in thanks to the “creative team” of “blue shirts.”  “First of all, we’re providing diversity, because it is important that we take what we have that might cost us a lot and turn it into something else,” Eckardt said. “They’ve been able to do that with their wastewater treatment plant and they’ve been able to do that with the methane digester, and now we’re going to be able to do it with the solar panel. That’s real diversity.”  Multiple references were made Wednesday to the teamwork required to accomplish what has been done on the campus. Willey said that when the town and Easton Utilities works together as a team, “we’re kind of hard to beat,” and Easton Utilities Commission Chairman W.W. “Buck” Duncan called it “one of the most exemplary teamwork efforts I’ve ever been involved in.”  “You’ve come to a place where we get things done and we get things done well,” Grunden told the crowd of dignitaries.