Public-Private Partnership Funds Innovative Maryland Microgrid Project

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: January 30, 2024

In 2017, the Montgomery County, MD County Council passed a resolution mandating a 100% reduction in the carbon emissions from county-owned transit and buildings by 2035. This was an expensive challenge, so the County’s Departments of General Services (DGS) and Transportation (DOT) had to get creative. The County partnered with private energy as service provider AlphaStruxure and a private equity firm to fund all upfront costs. Fleet costs are being subsidized by the federal government.

With suburban areas that abut Washington, DC and lightly populated farming communities, Montgomery County has diverse transit and mobility needs. “Electric batteries don’t have the range we seek on many routes,” explained David Dise, Director of Montgomery County’s Department of General Services (DGS). “Buses leave in the morning and come back in the evening. They tend to run about 100-120 miles on an electric charge. Our suburban and semi-rural areas have bus routes that run much longer than that.”

The County first purchased electric buses in 2019 and currently has 14 buses with 31 on order, but that fleet will only meet the needs of some of the system’s routes. To serve the semi-rural and suburban routes, as diesel buses come out of service, Dise’s team plans to replace those vehicles with hydrogen fuel cell electric buses.

“We differentiate between zero emissions and zero carbon emissions because half of the fleet will become hydrogen fuel cell electric. The hydrogen vehicles have a tailpipe, but nothing comes out of it except for water vapor,” Dise explained.

Managing a challenging transition

Dise and his team knew that there would be significant capital costs to meet the County Council’s 2035 goal. They also wanted to find ways to ensure predictable future energy costs for electrifying the entire fleet and supplying resilient and sustainable energy to critical facilities.

“These projects are being paid for under long-term agreements with partners AlphaStruxure, Schneider Electric, and GreenStruxure. The cost of the projects is being paid back via a fixed commodity charge, the price of electricity per kilowatt hour used,” explained Dise. Because local utility costs have fluctuated as much as 60% over the past few years, the County and its partners have been building their own microgrids that are directly used to power County vehicles, buildings, and maintain services.

“We saw unintended proof of concept last year when a small plane accidentally flew into power lines,” recalled Dise. “The whole area lost power, except for the County’s Animal Services and Adoption Center, which had its own microgrid.”

Much of the county’s microgrid energy is powered by solar canopies and rooftop arrays. At the County’s Brookville Depot, the AlphaStruxure team has installed a solar canopy over the bus parking lot, together with onsite battery storage and backup natural gas electricity generation if needed. As an additional redundancy, the facility is also connected with the local electricity utility.

The next microgrid is under planning for the County’s Gaithersburg, MD depot where electric and hydrogen fueled buses will operate. Hydrogen will be generated onsite as well as delivered from a future hydrogen conversion project at a former county landfill using power generated by solar panels placed on top of the landfill. But the team’s vision is to increasingly generate the hydrogen using renewable energy sources. “We want to have a green fleet,” Dise said.


Explore different types of financing and technologies. “We don’t own most of our solar panels,” Dise explained. “We lease our roofs and parking lots out to our private partners who can benefit from tax and energy credits from the federal government. They then sell the power generated to us at a predictable commodity rate.”

Work with partners. “We’re all told that there’s a lot of federal funds available. We know that the money is out there. Getting it is a challenge and determining if it’s applicable for your use is a challenge,” Dise said. To manage these challenges, Dise’s team has found success working with private partners like AlphaStruxure and GreenStruxure that have helped brainstorm and implement creative solutions.

Involve people. When Dise’s team began exploring new buses, they brought bus drivers to the factories for them to see how the vehicle is being made. They created opportunities for them to drive the vehicles at the factory and on test tracks before releasing them out onto active routes. They’ve also worked closely with the union that represents the drivers to help them get used to the new feel of electric vehicles. Mechanic leads are also doing train the trainer workshops to understand the components of electric vehicles that are different than the diesel ones.

For more information, contact:

Don Scheuerman, Jr. Division Chief, Office of Energy and Sustainability – 240-777-5595


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