by Jeff Della Rosa
Construction is on schedule and on budget for the largest solar array on city-owned land in Arkansas, and the 10-megawatt system is expected to begin operating July 1, said Matt Irving, vice president of operations for Today’s Power Inc. (TPI)
Work on the $23 million system started in March, and the city of Fayetteville hosted a media tour Tuesday (May 14) of the half of the system that’s near the Paul R. Noland Wastewater Treatment Facility in east Fayetteville. The other half of the system is under construction at the Westside Water Treatment Facility in west Fayetteville. The system will include 24 megawatt-hours of battery storage, and it will be the only one in the state with onsite utility-scale storage.
The two wastewater treatment plants consume more electricity than any other city facility, and the system is expected to produce about 103% of the total electricity consumption of the two plants. The battery storage will be available for when the system produces more or less electricity than the plants need and will be a source from which Ozarks Electric Cooperative to draw during peak use periods instead of purchasing electricity to meet demand.
More than 15,000 solar panels have been installed at the east Fayetteville site, and altogether, the two sites will have nearly 32,000 panels, Irving said. The panels can track the sun, which allows the system to produce 15% more electricity than stationary mounts. TPI will own 99% of the system, and the city will own 1%. TPI will own 100% of the battery storage.
The system is expected to increase the city’s renewable energy consumption from city operations from 16% to 72%, and allow the city to save $6 million over 20 years. The city will pay about $700,000 for electrical infrastructure upgrades at the site of the array and expects a return on investment in less than four years based on the savings from the electricity it will purchase from the array, said Peter Nierengarten, city sustainability director. The city has negotiated a 20-year solar services contract with TPI at a marginally lower energy price than the existing retail rate of Ozarks Electric, and the city expects to save $182,021 annually.
On Nov. 20, 2018, the city approved an agreement with Ozarks Electric and TPI to build the system.
“This is a big step toward achieving the goals of our energy action plan, and I’m proud of the innovative partnership that we’ve had with Today’s Power and Ozarks Electric,” said Sarah Marsh, who’s served on Fayetteville City Council for seven years. “And I think this is what the citizens of Fayetteville want. They want clean power and a resilient community.”
The solar array project is part of the city’s energy action plan, which has been in the works since February 2017 and was approved in January 2018. The plan includes goals for the city government to operate on 100% clean energy by 2030, and for the entire city to operate on 100% clean energy by 2050.
“If you believe in climate change, and I do believe in climate change, you look at making those adjustments,” Mayor Lioneld Jordan said. “We have done this, and have looked at alternative transportation. We have looked at it from conserving energy and being a sustainable city. To me, this is one of the big, huge, major accomplishments because ever since I was first elected to the city council, we talked about conserving energy and protecting the planet, reducing climate change that we see where everything seems to be heating up. So these are the kind of steps that you take to accomplish those Paris agreements and goals.”
He also discussed goals in the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encouraged residents to help the city to do this through alternative means of transportation such as cycling, walking or taking a bus.
“Right now we are focused on energy spent on transportation,” Marsh said. “So we’re going to be looking a building a livable transportation network, and you’ll see some of that through our 71B plan, through our progress in working with our partners at Ozark Regional Transit and Razorback Transit, building our trail and sidewalk networks and infilling our community.
“We know that for every dollar Northwest Arkansas residents are spending on energy, 97 cents leaves the state,” she said. “Residents of Northwest Arkansas are actually spending more money on transportation than they are housing. So that is an opportunity to reduce energy costs of the average Fayetteville citizen. They’re not putting that gas in their car. Maybe they can get by with one less car in their household or use it less. That is really just to make a transportation system that is healthy…for our community and our economy and our environment.”
The city continues to look for alternative sources of clean energy after the 2,000-megawatt Wind Catcher project was canceled in 2018 after the Public Utility Commission of Texas denied it. Recently, Southwestern Electric Power Co., a utility company of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power (AEP), started to seek proposals for up to 1,200 megawatts of wind energy projects to be in commercial operation by Dec. 15, 2021. AEP had proposed the Wind Catcher project, which had been approved by Arkansas regulators, and would have been the largest wind farm in the United States and the second largest in the world.