Solar farm proposal tabled indefinitely

Following a lengthy presentation, a proposal for a three-megawatt solar farm has been tabled indefinitely by the Sabetha City Commission.

The discussion took place at 6 p.m. Monday, March 14, at Sabetha City Hall. Present for the discussion were Mayor Cody Bletscher, Commissioners Norm Schmitt, Nick Aberle, Maridel Wittmer and Julie Burenheide, City Administrator Doug Allen, Assistant City Administrator Bill Shroyer, and City Clerk Steve Compo. Guests present were Jason Enneking and Scott Shreve with Priority Power, and Rick Borry with Priority Power via Zoom.

Discussion

Shreve and Borry, who have been talking with the city about this project for more than a year, presented an in-depth look at the potential solar farm to the commissioners. The purpose of the presentation was to see if the City wanted to move forward with the “Project Approval Notice.”

In order to assist the City with their decision on the project, the presentation included multiple aspects of the project, including looking at the project location, a solar irradiance map, the solar panel tracking design, project interconnection, hourly power generation by month, sustainability of the project, climate averages and FAA Notice.

Below are some points from the presentation.

Location: The proposed site was to be located by the Sabetha Airport – south of Old Highway 246 and Antelope Road intersection – and would cover approximately 18 acres.

Solar Irradiance Map: This map of the United States shows the potential certain areas have to produce solar electricity. Sabetha was located approximately in the middle range and would potentially generate 4.25-4.5 kWH/m2 per day, or peak sun hours.

Solar Tracker Design: The farm would produce 3 MW of solar power per year with multiple panels that follow the path of the sun, in order to generate the maximum amount of power. While the majority of the power will be generated during the summer months, Borry said the panels also will generate power during the winter months, especially while there is snow on the ground, because of the reflection of the sun on the snow.

Hourly Power Generation: This chart showed how many megawatts of power would be produced per hour during each month.

FAA Notice: The FAA requires notice of a solar site being built, due to the solar farms potentially producing glares for pilots.

Borry said the next step for the City was to approve the “Project Approval Notice,” which is no cost to the city. By approving the project approval notice, the city agrees to allow POW Solar to begin the project development and finalize costs and definitive agreements.

As for financing the project, Borry said the city would need to sign the “Power Purchase Agreement,” and the city would not need to put any money down on the project. According to Borry, Priority Power would build the farm and then receive governmental tax credits from the farm.

“We have partnered with the bank and it would be no money from the city,” Borry said. “You just sign the Power Purchase Agreement and you can buy power electricity at a rate per megawatt hour. It’s a 25-year agreement, but at year five, 10, 15 and 20, you have the option to buyout the project, and the cost to buyout the project decreases each of those years. We think this is the better economic path for the city.”

Shreve discussed the increase in power prices over the past few years and the benefits of solar.

“We believe the solar option is a pretty good option, and it’s not affected by natural gas prices,” Shreve said. “[Then], we’re recommending that you buy the solar farm after year five or year 10. This would be a cheaper option than your internal generation. I believe if you go forward with the solar generation and your base load piece, you would save about $200,000 to $250,000 per year. This diversifies your power load.”

As for buyout options, Shreve said the five-year buyout option for the city would be $3.5 million – 65 percent of the initial price. The 10-year buyout option would be $2.7 million, which is 50 percent of the initial price. After the buyout, other costs would include yearly maintenance and monthly site inspections.

After asking more questions regarding the fine details of the project, the commissioners discussed the project at length.

“It’s a lot of information and I understand some, but not all,” Wittmer said. “I hear a lot of positive things, are there any negatives? We haven’t heard anything negative.”

“The negative is you don’t generate during the evening,” Shreve said.

“Is there any noise or anything like that?” Bletscher asked.

“There won’t be any noticeable noise outside of the fenceline,” Borry said.

Borry also said wind and hail are “big concerns” for solar farms.

Schmitt asked how old the city’s oldest operating generator was.

“1930s,” Allen said.

“So, that is one of the other negatives, these things [solar farms] wear out,” Schmitt said.

“They degrade,” Shreve said.

“So, generators run at night, and that iron exists for a long time,” Schmitt said. “Maintenance, you have got to rebuild things [on generators].”

“Point well taken, we’ve talked about new generation and we can buy cheap diesel generators and that costs 15 cents per kilowatt hour, and then natural gas units are going to cost 6 cents per kilowatt hour,” Shreve said.

“I understand that,” Schmitt said, “but what do we pursue? I understand the green element and the fuels and the savings there, but when you need it. I’m not trying to be a wise guy, but when we got hit with that storm last year, I didn’t hear anybody say, ‘Gosh, I wish we had a solar farm.’”

“The city just can’t generate this low,” Shreve said.

“Net metering, that is what this comes down to,” Aberle said. “We’re going to net-meter from POW Solar LLC, who’s going to own it for five years.”

“Yes,” Shreve said. “You’re buying all the output.”

“So, if someone wanted to do the net-metering to take advantage of the federal tax credit of 26 percent,” Aberle said. “Then, if they are an individual, they would probably figure out some way to accelerate that depreciation and if they’re a business, they will use a modified accelerated cost-recovery system, which is a fancy way of saying accelerated depreciation. A net result of that is they’re going to get half their money back. So in this scenario, if a farmer wanted to do that and the city would allow him to sell all of his power back to the grid, we talked about small solar and the rate we talked about, wasn’t it the whole sale rate that we would pay them? We don’t pay them what they pay. We pay them what we would pay.”

“Correct, avoided cost,” Shreve said.

“So, to me I don’t think these are equal things,” Aberle said. “I think that if an individual can build a solar farm on a smaller scale and come out tax ahead and money ahead, locally here, and spend said savings or use their money to benefit our town. I know I’m jaded on this because I am anti-wind, because it is a racket by people taking advantage of government programs, which I’m a farmer. I know all about that. If I did the math on this right, you guys build the thing, you get half the money back upfront, you keep it under warranty for five years, so nothing goes wrong under your watch, and then you sell it to us for 65 percent of the value. When you look at dollars per megawatt hour, I’m not denying that is a good price. It’s better than buying diesel and generating, but who really benefits out of the deal?”

“We had conversations with customers here, initially,” Shreve said. “That is how this kind of started, because we talked to local businesses, who could take advantage of the tax credit.”

“But no businesses were interested,” Aberle said.

“We’re talking large scale, where the smaller scale is 10 cents or 12 cents per kilowatt hour,” Shreve said. “The smaller the units obviously, that’s where we’re trying to drive that.”

“I don’t want to sign this tonight,” Burenheide said. “In the long run, we’re going to generate with generators and we’re going to have to keep that plant going. I want people to know that we can fund that and we’re going to keep our city going, when maybe everybody else is down. It’s a lot of money for little bang.”

“I’m not saying get rid of your generators,” Shreve said. “This is an energy play where you get an opportunity for renewable credits per capacity.”

The commissioners decided unanimously to table the discussion indefinitely.

Also at the meeting:

The commissioners approved the minutes from the Monday, Feb. 28, meeting.

The commissioners approved increased wages for summer help at the Sabetha Aquatic Center. Allen said Sabetha was “falling out of line” with other cities in the area and this would help the city be competitive in their wages.

The commissioners approved the Amendment No. 4 for the KDHE Water Supply Loan.

The commissioners will meet again at 6 p.m. Monday, March 28, at Sabetha City Hall.

Heather Stewart226 Posts

Heather Stewart is a reporter for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. She specializes in court and sports reporting, as well as photography. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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