Revamped deal will make Port of Charleston state’s biggest rooftop solar generator

The State Ports Authority is moving ahead with a rooftop solar energy project that will be South Carolina’s largest, eclipsing the one atop Boeing Co.’s Dreamliner plant in North Charleston.

The maritime agency said Friday it will lease rooftop space on warehouses at two of its terminals to Charleston-based SolBright Renewable Energy LLC, which will install panels generating up to 3.7 megawatts of electricity.

Boeing South Carolina’s 787 assembly plant in North Charleston has housed the largest rooftop solar farm in the state since 2012. File/Leroy Burnell/Staff

When completed this summer, the project will overtake Boeing’s 2.4-megawatt facility as the state’s largest rooftop generator of renewable energy.

The rental agreement comes after the SPA’s board of directors balked at the costs of an earlier proposal, under which the maritime agency would have purchased the panels. Board members last month said they were not comfortable with tying up SPA money on the deal, which would have taken 22 years to turn a profit.

“This is a cleaner option — not consuming capital and not taking us out of our core business,” Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and CEO, said Friday. “We’re not in the business of generating power. We’re in the business of running a port.”

The lease is expected to generate about $1.85 million for the SPA. SolBright will make an initial $375,000 payment to the agency, with the remaining lease payments spread out over 25 years.

The panels will be placed atop one warehouse at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant and three warehouses across the harbor at Columbus Street Terminal on the Charleston peninsula. SolBright will own and maintain the panels.

“It’s a reasonable benefit for making use of idle space,” Newsome said. “It meets the legitimate concerns of our board members and gives us an income stream without any risk.”

The panels will help the SPA reduce its reliance on conventional energy sources and SolBright will be able to sell power back to utility South Carolina Electric & Gas during peak demand periods.

Patrick McKinney, chairman of the SPA, called the project “an exciting step that deepens the port’s ongoing efforts to be an environmental leader in our industry.”

The solar initiative was spurred by state legislation passed last year to encourage the use of renewable energy and urge utilities to increase the amount of such power they have in their portfolios.

“If you look around the port, one of the things we have a lot of is roof space,” said Barbara Melvin, the SPA’s vice president of terminals and operations. “We thought one of the best ways we could contribute to this is be a surrogate and allow folks to utilize our roofs to generate this renewable power source.”

Each megawatt of electricity can power about 164 homes, according to the Solar Energy Association.

Source: Post and Courier