Old-fashioned meat market, cutting-edge power

Fifty-eight years after it opened in Highland, Boarman's Old-Fashioned Meat Market is still, in many respects, living up to its name.

Boarman family members still mix spices for the pork sausage made in house, the staff butcher still stuffs the sausage skin, still cuts meat to order and, more recently, started smoking bacon with apple wood he gets from a neighbor.

Boarman's is possibly Howard County's last all-purpose market that's not part of a chain, offering everything from household cleaners to beer and wine, canned goods, produce, house-made crab cakes and custom cuts of meat.

But walk out back of the store at the crossroads of Clarksville Pike and Route 216, past a few weather-beaten storage buildings to an open field, and suddenly Boarman's seems less old-fashioned. There stands one of the county's larger solar installations: 10 rows of solar panels cocked at a 30-degree angle to the sun, sending power to an AC converter and ultimately to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

"Boarman's is going green," said George Boarman III, who is 26 and a member of the fourth generation of his family to help run the meat and grocery business that his great-grandfather started in Mount Rainier, Prince George's County, in 1932.

Boarman had just finished giving visitors a tour of the new solar installation, from the utility boxes and meters behind the store to the array of 784 panels, each producing 250 watts for a total just shy of 200 kilowatts.

On a sunny morning in February, the panels were producing enough juice that a tiny arrow on the electricity meter pointed to the left, meaning power was running back to the BGE grid. That means the solar array was powering the store, and then some, with credit being applied to the Boarman's electricity bill.

And what a bill it was, Boarman said. He estimated the store was paying between $6,000 and $7,000 a month recently, until the solar system went online in early January. The dollar figures were a key part of the discussions he had with his father and grandfather last year as they decided whether to install the system.

They hadn't thought of it until a representative of Solar Energy World, a company based in Elkridge with a smaller office in Whippany, N.J., stopped by to make a pitch. Owners of the company live in the area and know the store, and thought it would be a good prospect, said Geoff Mirkin, a company vice president.

So the conversations began. It wasn't an easy sell, Boarman said. He said the family decided to go ahead "after a lot of debate and pushing on my part. … I had to really push the numbers. There had to be a reason."

The Boarmans have not exactly been throwing money around on renovations. With its worn linoleum floors inside and wooden produce stand out front, the store has changed little in 58 years, Boarman said. The meat display case is the same one his grandfather, Florentine J. Boarman, put in when the store opened — and be bought it used.

Until Solar Energy World began work on the installation, Boarman's had no loans, and in an economy still in the midst of a slow recovery, taking on debt can be a scary step. Still, there was the potential payoff to consider, Boarman said, looking ahead to the future of a long-standing business with a solid reputation in the community.

The conservative estimate says the cost of the system can be recovered in seven years, but Boarman said he's hoping it pays off in four to five. He's encouraged by the fact that even in winter, there are days when that little arrow on the meter points left.

"In the summertime, this thing will be cooking," said Ryan Reagin, a technician with Solar Energy World. After helping install the system over about three weeks in November, Reagin was back this month to complete a general upgrade of the store's electrical system, which he said appeared to be the 1955 original.

Mirkin said the system cost about $800,000 installed. Deduct from that about $340,000 in the form of a federal grant covering 30 percent of the cost, and another state grant for 12.5 percent.

Mirkin said it's the largest system his nearly four-year-old company has installed in Howard, which he called a Maryland leader in solar installation.

"We've done more in Howard County than anywhere else in the state," said Mirkin. Among Maryland counties, he said, Howard and Montgomery were both early to offer tax credits as incentives for putting in solar. Howard's physical landscape is also solar-friendly, as there are not so many older neighborhoods with large trees.

Joshua Feldmark, the county's director of environmental sustainability, said there are 602 residential solar energy systems in the county, 575 of them mounted on rooftops, 27 on the ground. He said the county does not track the number of commercial systems such as Boarman's.

He said the solar energy property tax credit program began in summer 2007 and ended three years later, although credits will be given out until the summer of 2014, as there's a waiting list and a cap on how many credits can be given in a given fiscal year. By then, he said, the program will have allowed $2.5 million in tax credits for 374 solar and 191 geothermal systems.

The county's largest solar energy system yet could be coming to a farm off Route 32 in West Friendship. Bith Energy, a Baltimore-based company, has approval for a 10,400-panel installation that would generate 2 megawatts and will be seeking a county hearing examiner's permission for a 10-megawatt station, 50 times the generating power of the Boarman's system.

The Bith project would be the first solar energy system in the county built strictly to sell power to BGE, not associated with a home or business.

Boarman's has humbler aspirations: control costs, perhaps make some money back in the long run — and keep the power flowing to that old meat case to put the best light on the butcher's handiwork.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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