Solar power lights up Beloit’s avenues
BELOIT – The City of Beloit heard some discussions on the subject of solar power during Tuesday's City Council meeting and a more in depth outlook has been taking place.
The Beloit community had access to their first power plant in 1888 during the infancy commercial electricity transmission. That initial power plant could produce 100 kW – enough to power maybe 30 air conditioners in today’s world, however sufficient at that time to power many lightbulbs and other basic needs. At that time a private corporation saw the need and long term value of developing a reliable power source that was able to be transmitted across a grid.
In 1908, the electric utility became city owned. Several iterations of power sources were utilized at the old city power plant until 1951. This location still stands today, near the Solomon River and is often referred to as the old water plant.
Starting in 1951, in conjunction with the then new water plant construction, the power plant was upgraded to its present location, 215 S. Chestnut. The new power plant moved to natural gas and diesel powered generation and it currently is capable of producing 15,700 kW of power. This is sufficient to cover City of Beloit residents as the peak demand is usual 12 to 13 mW on a hot day in July.
For many decades, as with the previous power plant, the new power plant provided power for the local residents and businesses within the City of Beloit. In 1976, the City of Beloit located to the local grid, which was part of the initial transformation of our power resources coming from the larger power grid. This gave the community access to another form of power for reliability, but also for potentially cheaper forms of power. The power grid has continued to evolve over the decades with the culmination several years ago of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). This power pool or marketplace is grid of power resources that covers North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and parts of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Montana.
By developing a large marketplace, it allows our community access to many different sources of power.
"For example, said City Manager Jason Rabe, "we purchase hydropower from a location in Oklahoma and wind energy from a location in Western Kansas.With this modernization, the City of Beloit only relies on their power plant for emergency power needs, grid disruptions, and so that we are able to purchase power off the market grid on an as needed basis that can be purchased at a favorable price."
For the last decade, solar energy has been explored and sometimes implemented by communities throughout the state and Midwest. Like most technology, solar has continued to mature as a viable technology that is both efficient relative to cost and is durable enough to last a few decades. For the last three years, the City of Beloit has been doing due diligence in determining potential locations for a solar installation, the appropriate size, the type of solar system, and ultimately how it will improve our reliability and lower costs for our customers.
The size system that the City of Beloit would potentially install would be 1-2 MW and would have tracking capability. With a project like this, there would be potential for a community solar program that would allow customers to purchase a portion of the project in exchange for reduced rates. The City of Beloit has a traditional power demand curve, meaning that the communities power needs are greatest at in the early afternoon.
"To bring this into perspective, imagine a hot day in July – the temperature may peak at 2 to 3 p.m., which in turn will run air conditioners while still producing power for the middle of the work day when businesses are in full swing and for homes because the kids are home for the summer," said Rabe. "This power demand curve type nearly matches the production of a solar project which usually peaks in the early afternoon when the sun is the most powerful. Another benefit to large scale solar, like the project the city is exploring, is the potential for lower cost."
As currently projected over a 30 year life span, a solar project like the city would install would produce power at a cost of roughly 2.5 cents per kWh which is cheaper than the average raw power cost of 4.5- 5 cents per kWh. Having a large scale solar project would also provide educational opportunities for the local schools and college as they currently have coursework and projects revolving around renewable energy.
"What better way than to study and review data from their own backyard," Rabe said. "The history of power generation in our community has continually shifted over the last 130 years as new technologies and avenues for power have come online. Solar generation is just one more avenue that can provide cheaper and more reliable power to customers within the City of Beloit."