City of Abilene

Solar energy could be installed at 22 locations owned by the city of Abilene, the Abilene City Commission was told at a study session on Monday.

And that could also save the city millions over the years.

Karlo Meave with Sunsmart Technologies gave a preliminary report saying the solar panels could start saving money “from day one.”

Commissioner Trevor Witt asked Meave to look into solar energy after he toured the wastewater treatment plant.

“I noticed a large fenced off area that has this big open field out there,” Witt said. “I know solar panels are growing in capability and lowering costs. I don’t know if its a good area for solar panels or not but that is when the thought kicked into my head. I’ve been rolling it around for a while.”

Witt said that looking at the checks every month, the utility bill is around $40,000.

Meave said the city had some options with one costing $1.8 million and a second at $1.2 million.

Savings calculated to $4.4 million over 25 years.

“What that says in my head is that’s a whole bond project,” Witt said.

Utility bills

That is based on energy costs increasing 3 percent each year.

Meave said he reviewed the last 12 months of utility bills.

“The first thing when it comes to solar that I look at is how much energy does the particular meter use. That gives me a gauge on how many solar panels would offset the usage,” he said. “The next thing I look at is where are we physically placing these panels? Is it going on the roof? Is it going on the ground? Where do you guys want them to go?”

He said he also looks at the financial impact of solar.

He presented the commissioners with a complete analysis of the 22 locations.

Financial package

He said the solar energy could be financed through a government-municipal lease.

“You would own the system outright but finance it over the next 20 years,” he said. “You guys would save money from the electrical costs from the first year.”

Meave said for the first 10 years all maintenance would be covered.

“We would guarantee the solar system’s production,” he said. “That means if the system doesn’t produce roughly 95 percent of what I say it is going to, a third party company would write you guys a check for that difference. Essentially, what I am trying to eliminate is as much risk as possible with the system.”

Ironically the wastewater treatment plant is also the cheapest utility rate.

Meave said one option is to cover all 22 sites at a cost of $1.8 million. A second option would be to not cover the wastewater treatment plant at a cost of $1.6 million. 

“With both options you guys would save money from day one,” he said. “The option without the wastewater, you save a little bit more money.”

The solar systems are under warranty for 25 years. 

City Manager Jane Foltz said the report was very preliminary.

“There are all kinds of next steps before anything can be done,” she said. “This is information only. There is no action to be taken. There is a lot that needs to be looked at after we receive this information.”

Both Mayor Chris Ostermann and Commission Dee Marshall asked about upgrades in technology and who would be responsible for those costs.

Meave said as long as the system continued to produce energy, there would be no upgrades. 

Ostermann said he wanted to get input from the public.

“Just looking at the numbers in front of me, it could be a pretty staggering savings,” said Commissioner Brandon Rein. 

He said utility cost could be higher than the 3 percent estimated.

Commissioners agreed to continue looking into solar energy.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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