Progress continues to be made on solar array project at Allamakee County Public Safety Center as part of Power Purchase Agreement

Solar array project progresses at Public Safety Center ... Work continues at the solar array location near the Allamakee County Public Safety Center north of Waukon. As pictured above, metal posts have been driven into the ground and will soon have solar panels attached. As of mid-December, pallets containing the solar panels (packaged in photo above) have been delivered to this location with installation to begin soon for this solar array, which will supply electricity to the Public Safety Center, two adjacent storage buildings and the Allamakee County Recycling facility. As part of a power purchase agreement (PPA), the investor-owned equipment will utilize solar energy, lower energy costs at the Public Safety Center by approximately $10,000 per year and eliminate the high cost of equipment and hardware which may make this type of project cost prohibitive for some facilities or communities. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

Allamakee County is moving forward with plans to utilize solar energy at the County’s Public Safety Center north of Waukon. That location will soon be home to a completed solar array, a collection of multiple solar panels that will generate electricity as a system. This renewable energy option will provide electricity not only for the Public Safety Center, but also for storage buildings associated with that facility in addition to the Allamakee County Waste and Recycling facility located just south of the Public Safety Center grounds.

Allamakee County Sheriff Clark Mellick and Vice President John Nielsen of Perry Novak Electric in Decorah recently provided an update to The Standard relating to this project. Mellick discussed how the solar array project came to be, with the County being approached earlier this year by a contractor and an investor expressing interest in developing a solar array.

Discussion of this potential project took place at the March 8, March 15 and April 19 Allamakee County Board of Supervisors meetings earlier this year with a power purchase agreement (PPA) being approved at that April 19 meeting. A PPA is a contract between a government agency and investor relating to an agreement to purchase energy over a long period of time to allow for electricity cost savings. With the concept approved by the County at the April 19 Supervisors meeting, planning and work have continued through this agreement with investor White Solar LLC.

As currently visible on the south side of the Public Safety Center grounds from State Highway 9 that runs adjacent to those grounds, the solar array project has progressed with the installation of some foundational hardware including metal posts that have been put in place to support solar panels. Mellick shared that conduit has been buried as part of this installation process, which will feed electricity to the Public Safety Center and nearby buildings.

Nielsen noted that delivery of solar panels took place this past week with the installation of that equipment being possible but not likely to take place prior to the end of the year. Nielsen advised that a completion date a couple months from now would be more realistic with Alliant Energy to have 30 days following completion to review the project before it goes live.

Mellick advised that as part of the PPA, the investor, White Solar LLC, will maintain ownership of all solar array equipment with the County allowing the land on which the array is located to be leased. The location of the solar array, the southern portion of the grounds between the Public Safety Center and driveway, will not be permanently impacted by the installation of this hardware and equipment. Mellick noted that the metal posts on which solar panels will be attached, have been planted 9-10 feet into the ground but can be removed if the solar array would need to be removed decades from now.

Mellick discussed the advantages of the PPA agreement, which will allow for $10,000 in electricity cost savings annually without the County taking on the expense of the solar array equipment. Nielsen and Mellick advised that the Public Safety Center’s electricity costs will see approximately a one-third reduction monthly with the switch to solar energy under the PPA. Mellick explained that during the day, the Public Safety Center’s electricity will be provided by solar while electricity overnight will be provided by the energy grid. Electricity produced beyond the daytime needs of the Public Safety Center and surrounding buildings, as explained by Mellick, will be shared with the energy grid during those daytime hours.

Mellick further noted that the County has continued to look into renewable energy options for greater efficiency and cost savings. He advised that during the Public Safety Center’s planning process, solar was considered the best renewable energy option available for this location with geothermal not being as feasible. As discussed by Mellick, the PPA creates an opportunity to lower energy costs while utilizing solar as a renewable energy source without the high cost of equipment and hardware as a barrier.

Nielsen discussed the anticipated longevity of the solar array and options available to the County moving forward. He noted that the projected lifespan of solar panels is currently up to 35 years with a 20 percent reduction in energy output seen at 25 years of use, otherwise referred to as an 80 percent rating at that point in its lifespan. Nielsen advised that within a window of seven to 11 years after going live many communities in similar situations budget to purchase solar arrays, with other communities choosing to never purchase and simply continuing the PPA arrangement for the duration of the solar array’s lifespan. Nielsen added that many communities are choosing the investor-owned method to offset utility costs, which will likely continue to rise.