Beloit Solar Power concept comes into play
BELOIT – For generations, mankind has looked to the sun and worked to devise ways to harness its incredible power. In recent decades, this has meant utilizing solar panels to turn this power into usable energy. Like many forms of technology, solar panels and solar farms have continued to increase production capability while reducing in cost- essentially the solar panel has continued to mature as a technology.
A simple analogy that we are familiar with in recent times are flat screen TV’s. In the early years of the new millennium, flat screen TV’s were a novelty with a promising future. However, they were heavy, primitive in their technology, and extremely expensive with some screen costing upwards of $15,000 to $20,000. Twenty years later, you can purchase flat screens that are larger and provide a better picture for $500 to $1,000- a fraction of the cost for far better technology. In a way, solar panels have been and are following the same arc of improvement and cost reduction, they are maturing as a technology.
So, how does solar fit into the power portfolio of the City of Beloit?
"First, it is important to understand the typical power needs of the utility customers," said City of Beloit Manager Jason Rabe. "The peak power demands on a hot summer afternoon typically hit 13-14 MWs. The base power demands typically are 5-7 MWs depending on the time of day or time of year. For nearly two decades, the City of Beloit has held a power contract with Great River Dam Authority (GRDA), that supplies this base load. In the early part of the millennium, this contract made some sense- it was a fairly affordable, fixed piece of power. However, as the integrated marketplace has come to fruition the last decade, there is cheaper power more readily available. The City of Beloit is not able to fully realize this because it must take delivery of the GRDA power contract."
This contract runs out in 2026. This is where the concept of solar for the City of Beloit comes into play. First, solar typically creates the most energy at the peak of the power demand curve. Second, it helps fill the future gap of energy needs when the GRDA contract falls off, this would be in used in conjunction with other cheaper power contracts or marketplace energy.
"The solar project that the City of Beloit is looking to install is not intended to supply all of the cities power needs, it is meant to be a strategic part of the solution- help fill the energy pocket need between the base load and the peak load," said Rabe. "The project that the City of Beloit is looking to install would be located next to the sewer plant and would be roughly 2-3 MWs. The system would be a single axis tracking system, meaning it can optimize itself as the sun rises and falls."
The project is expected to cost between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000, which projects to a levelized cost of energy for the life of the project $20 per MWh, this includes the cost of the project and O&M. This is in comparison to the GRDA power contract which is $45 per MWh. The solar project is just part of the strategy to work to deliver more affordable energy.
The last few years, the City has worked to optimize the power portfolio despite the GRDA contract and has reduced energy costs by about 10 percent- this has been done through the sale of capacity, sale of a portion of our GRDA contract, and the purchase of cheap wind energy. As the solar project comes on line and the GRDA contract falls off, we are projecting an additional 15-25 percent reduction in energy costs.
"We also see partnership opportunities with our local schools and technical college, with a large scale solar project in their backyard what a great place to learn in this emerging educational and job market arena," Rabe said.
The timeline for completion if everything falls into place would be for construction of the project in 2021 with the project coming on line in that same year. If you have any questions, please contact Jason Rabe at 785-534-3439.