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Heart on sun power

November 23, 2012

Bill Rains

One Wapakoneta city administrator pledges the city’s electric system will have a solar panel field providing power for the city’s power consumers in 2013.

“I believe in my heart we will have a 3 megawatt project on the Zink Farm providing the city’s electric system with green energy,” Safety-Service Director Bill Rains said.  “We are pretty close on finalizing our contract with Solar Planet and having it signed. This is the first time we have worked with them so we are making sure we are protected and they are protected.

“We leaned forward enough on the Defiance Street Substation project that we installed the appropriate switchgear at the substation with the anticipation of that solar field going in,” the city administrator said. “With Solar Vision they were going to construct the line from the solar field at the Zink Farm to the Defiance Street Substation, but Solar Planet has an issue with that because of the expense so we are looking at some different alternatives to get that line installed.”

Solar Vision, of Columbus, had negotiated a deal with the city, but they failed to secure financing for the project.

Solar Planet, also of Columbus, has financial backing and intends to break ground by the end of the year.

The electrical line would have to cover approximately one mile and would be a dedicated line from the solar field to the substation. Solar Planet authorities are estimating the cost of the line between $250,000 and $400,000.

While Rains has not had an engineer develop an estimate for the project, he said the city should be able to install the power line for less because they can purchase wiring wholesale and they do not have to factor in costs for paying a subcontractor. The city also would not have to pay as much since city crews could install the line themselves if city crews had the time.

Since the city is busy with other electrical system upgrades predicated by the replacement of four substations, they will directly contract to have the line installed.

Rains explained the power would be “behind the meter” so it would be strictly used by city consumers and would not enter the open market. Solar Planet will get the green energy credits from the city, but in return the city gets a reduced rate. The city will pay 7 cents per kilowatt for power from the solar field, which is close to what the city is paying for electricity on the open market.

While Rains explained this is approximately what the city pays now per kilowatt,  it is much lower cost than what the city pays when it purchases peak power which is power generated above normal everyday usage.

“The best thing about this project is the day this solar field will be working the hardest and producing the most electricity is when the city will gain the most benefit because it is going to be keeping us from using peak power,” Rains said. “If that produces at or  near its nameplate which is approximately 3 megawatts and keeps us off that peak power, that really expensive power which we must purchase during those really hot July and August days, then it will benefit everybody.”

Wapakoneta Councilor-at-large Steve Walter, who chairs council’s Utilities Committee, is a proponent of diversifying the city’s electric portfolio in terms of where the city receives and purchases power.

“Assuming that the contract gets put together within the framework that we originally discussed, I think it is an excellent first step for Wapakoneta to get some small percentage of its portfolio from green renewable power,” Walter said. “I, personally, think there is ultimately room for about three times that much in the portfolio, but this would make a great first step.”

He estimates the city will actually realize approximately 600 kilowatts of power from the field and thus the city could handle three times that amount. The city’s peaking power in the summer is often 3 megawatts higher (42 megawatts) than its normal usage of 36 megawatts to 39 megawatts.

Walter told the Wapakoneta Daily News he believes the city gains some advantages by having the line directly linked to the city power system.

“The city stands to realize a couple of advantages including the fact that the source of the power is certain,” Walter said. “It doesn’t leave any assumption or any guesswork where the electrons are coming from.

“Second, and in a direct relationship to that, is it gives the city more direct control both under the current situation and into the future in regard to options,” the councilor said. “The power agreement would include the option to purchase the capital equipment somewhere down the road if the city chose to do that. It is an option but not a requirement which gives us the best of all possible worlds.”

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