Solar power’s part

Poles just sticking out of the ground a few weeks ago along Wapak Cridersville Road now includes panels of dark glass slightly tilted to the south and east.

Crews from AP Alternatives, working for Columbus-based Solar Planet Inc., are methodically working to convert 30 acres of city ground into a solar panel field that will generate 3 megawatts of electric power for the city of Wapakoneta.

“Things are going very well, but I am sure this recent weather at the end of last week has put them behind some,” Mayor Rodney Metz said, explaining crews started construction of the solar panel field next to the roadway and will move to additional ground to the east of the railroad tracks. “I know prior to these recent rains that they were pretty confident that by the end of June all the panels would be up.

“In regard to the second part of the project — the electrical line from the solar panel field to the Defiance Street Substation — we have a couple of items to work out in regard to the right-of-way and Solar Planet will have a subcontractor come in and do that work as well,” the mayor said, noting the line will extend from the solar panel field near the Wapakoneta Composting facility to the Defiance Street Substation. “The two projects should move pretty quickly as soon as we get the right-of-way for the line secured. The right-of-way agreements will be wrapped up by the end of the month and it won’t take them long to construct the electric line.”

Metz explained when the Defiance Street Substation was replaced in 2011, city administrators had the necessary equipment built into the substation to handle power from a solar panel field.

With the connection behind the city’s power meter, the city will benefit from all of the power generated. The city of Wapakoneta operates as a municipal electric utility, which purchases power from the market and in recent years has diversified its electrical portfolio and staggered its contracts with providers to help get the best price.

Safety-Service Director Bill Rains and Metz agreed the system should be coming on line at the most opportune time — just as summer temperatures and humidity climbs prompting air conditioning use to increase.

“The solar panel field should be working its hardest when the city’s electric system needs it the most,” Rains said at a recent city council meeting. “Power from the solar panel field should help in keeping us off peak power which should help keep electricity prices down because we won’t have to go out and buy electric power when it is generated from natural gas generators.”

He said more than 1,500 panels will be collecting power when the system is placed on-line for the city.

Solar Planet owns the solar panels, but the city has options to purchase the system in the future. The contract also stipulates the price the city will pay for electric power generated at the site, starting at 7 cents per kilowatt, and rising in future years based on the rate the city is paying on the open market.

At present, Metz favors the cost benefit from the solar panel field.

“The way I look at it is we know the solar panels will be generating electricity in our peak periods,” Metz said, explaining the city peaks during the day during the summer months because of air conditioning. “We all know when it is hot, it is typically sunny and that is when the solar panel field will be producing the most electricity. There is no guarantee there will be wind.

“Another benefit is there is no special equipment needed to work on the solar farm, such as a 300-foot crane to work on a wind turbine,” the mayor said. “Now, I believe the technology is advancing and will make wind turbines much more feasible. I know they have developed mechanical drives for wind turbines which have eliminated a tremendous amount of maintenance for them.”

He said another benefit is the solar panel field can be constructed by securing local construction permits, while the wind turbines require state permits with their added expense and public hearings.