FREE Friendsville Renewable Energy Effort


FREE Solar Co-Op Expanding Solar Use in Garrett County

Background info:

The Friendsville Renewable Energy Effort (FREE) works with people who would like to go Solar. 

Pre-COVID, FREE held a Solar Saturday event in Friendsville with reports from business and residential solar array owners as well as power point presentations from top solar installers from the mountain area. Attendees learned about solar both from those who live with and benefit from owning a solar array as well as from those who have pioneered the installation of solar panels on the mountaintop. Practical installation details were discussed as well as solar law and tax benefits.

According to their chairman, FREE has the top solar installers in the mountaintop area giving the lowest prices they have seen. These contractors are from the mountaintop area but are not from Garrett County because no electrical contractor in the county is now a solar installer. The two contractors working with FREE have NABCEP certification, meaning they have passed solar installation education programs and have the considered gold standard training and experience in the installation of solar.

These contractors have also offered to include local electricians and contractors in their installation operation, educating a local workforce in this new technology and offering hands-on training for local tradesmen who wish to learn solar installation. FREE takes the view that Solar arrays that are installed in Garrett or Allegany County by companies from outside of the Mountaintop area or the eastern part of Maryland cannot be properly maintained by contractors who live 3 or 4 hours away. According to Smith, FREE wishes to “keep it local” and keep dollars from the mountaintop on the mountaintop. Excellent warranties and remote monitoring are also offered along with complete installation and testing.

FREE is interested in job creation on the mountaintop as much as it is in solar energy promotion. To sign up now with FREE for a solar estimate call 301-746-5625 or email [email protected]

"Solar Saturday" Event Held In Friendsville to Get Homeowners to Sign up for Solar

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On Saturday, July 23, 2016, a Solar Saturday event was held in Friendsville. The Friendsville Renewable Energy Effort (FREE) sponsored the event.

The day’s activities included presentations from several Mountain Maryland residents who own solar systems on the process of contracting and having photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on a home. Solar installers were on hand to present information about the details involved. There was a presentation on the tax incentives offered by the government and Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC’s) paid to the solar system owner.

There was also a presentation on energy saving initiatives offered to residents from the Maryland Energy Administration including a free quick energy audit of a home for Potomac Edison customers.

The goal of Solar Saturday was to get local residents to sign up for an estimate on their own solar system. A large group of individuals signing up will enable a potential contractor to lower his/her price through bulk purchasing. This meeting was for all local residents, although FREE is only discussing Maryland installations as each state currently has its own solar regulations. People who are served by Potomac Edison and Somerset Rural Electric Cooperative will both be eligible for the benefits of a group purchasing plan.

FREE is an all volunteer subcommittee of the Economic Development Committee of the Friendsville Town Council and there will be no charge to either the contractor or the buyer for their services. It will cost nothing to sign up and estimates are free. Light refreshments will be offered at the event.

FREE was formed in early 2015 with the goal of making the Town of Friendsville energy independent. Several different ways of producing renewable energy have been researched by the committee including solar, wind, hydro and bio-gas. While wind, hydro-electric and bio-gas remain on the to-do list, the committee has determined that easiest and least intensive electrical generation available to the general public are solar photo voltaic panels.

The cost of solar is going down and Garrett County has several solar projects planned or actually being constructed now. Though cloud cover is frequent in Garrett County, solar panels still produce well in this location. Germany has about the same number of peak solar hours per day as Alaska but they still produce about one half of the solar power produced in the world today.

A larger solar installation is also planned by FREE to supply the municipal needs of Friendsville, including street lighting, electricity for the town park and the town municipal buildings. FREE has collected donations to pay for the engineering needed for a flood plain construction permit to build a 50,000 watt solar array to be located along the edge of the new town parking area on the west side of town.

Chairman of FREE, Rob Smith, says, “The municipal array has been designed to be as unobtrusive as possible so that residents on the west side of town will not lose their view of the sunset.” The array is planned to be located in the southwest corner of the parking area.

“The town can pay for the 50 kilowatt array simply by investing the dollars they would normally pay to the power company for their electric bill,” Smith says. “This way their monthly cost for electricity will remain constant for the 12 to 14 years it will take to pay off the cost of construction and after the array is paid for the town will have free electricity for the remaining life of the array, 12 to 15 years, netting the town a tidy sum of money in avoided operating costs.”

On July 18th the FREE committee presented their proposal to build the array to the Friendsville Town Council. FREE can be contacted at [email protected] or 301-746-5625.