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Village solar project proposed

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The Village of Yellow Springs, which already gets a third of its electricity from renewable sources, has an opportunity to add locally-produced renewable energy to its portfolio. After receiving SolarVision LLC’s proposal to develop a solar farm for the Village several weeks ago, Village Council heard from a representative of the company and village residents at its Feb. 22 meeting.

In his presentation, Jamie Albert of the Westerville-based company said SolarVision would finance, own, maintain and insure the array of solar photovoltaic panels if the Village would agree to a 20-year power-purchase agreement with the company and provide or procure the land for the solar panels. In return, the Village would receive an upfront payment of $200,000 for each megawatt of power contracted, which could be used to purchase property for the solar array or, if Village-owned land were to be used for the project, for its general fund.

The rate for the first 10 years would be $0.07 per kilowatt-hour, which is similar to what the Village currently pays for electricity it contracts through its municipal power provider, AMP. The system needs to come online by the end of 2011 to receive a federal tax credit that would ensure financing, Albert said in an interview after the meeting.

SolarVision, in collaboration with MeLink Corporation and Yellow Springs Renewable Energy, or YSRE, is looking to build a solar array with between 2 and 5 megawatts of generating capacity. Under the proposed arrangement, SolarVision would secure investors for the project, which would have expenses on the order of $10 million for a 2-megawatt array. MeLink — a Milford, Ohio, energy company — would design the system and procure the panels and YSRE, a joint venture between Scott and Shannon Lindstrom of Lindstrom-Sprague Mechanical Services and Paul Wren of Hytek Energy Solutions, a Covington-based energy company, would install and operate the panels.

In a 5-megawatt array, 75,000 individual panels covering 30 acres would provide about 20 percent of the Village’s electric needs. The Fogg farm and the Center for Business and Education were initially identified as potential sites, but since AMP suggested that the Village’s portfolio could only handle an additional 2 megawatts due to existing contracts and the challenges of exporting excess energy from the local grid, other sites are now being considered. A 2-megawatt array would require just 12 acres and provide about four percent of the town’s electricity, opening up new options such as the Village-owned Glass Farm or the Sutton Farm.

Villagers at the meeting expressed their support for the project but had concerns.

“I want to speak very loudly and very much in support of solar energy,” Christine Roberts said. “It is what this planet needs, it is the most important thing that we can do for the future of our planet … locally-produced solar energy is the answer.”

“I am in favor of solar energy — I have 10 panels on my home — but I have grave concerns about this proposal,” said Paul Abendroth, who questioned in a letter to Council the potential use of the Center for Business and Education, owned by Community Resources, or the privately-owned Fogg Farm, since both are ideal sites for commercial or residential development. He also questioned the notion of the Village entering into a power purchase agreement on its own without going through AMP.

Village Manager Mark Cundiff said the Village is consulting with AMP on the project, while Council President Judith Hempfling suggested an independent consultant also review the proposal.

In an interview after the meeting, Energy Board President Jerry Papania said that a local solar array may have its advantages. Besides the visual impact of panels in or just outside of the community, the Village would also, under the proposal, have the option to purchase the array after 10 years and again after 20 years.

“With solar panels that are visible to the public, it can make people more aware of where their energy is coming from,” Papania said. “I think it can also be a positive public relations thing identifying a forward-looking community.”

Village Superintendent of Electric and Water Kelley Fox agrees. “I’m really on board with the whole portfolio diversification. I don’t know if it’s going to save us that much in terms of cost — the factor is more our carbon footprint and making a statement as a community,” he said.

But some villagers have questioned whether the Village should become an electricity producer rather than just an electricity distributor.

Currently, AMP’s suggestion that 2 megawatts may be the maximum size for the Village is under review by several parties, including the Energy Board. While the Village’s infrastructure could support higher amounts of electricity through its lines, it would be a disincentive to produce more power than the Village uses because solar is typically only purchased from utilities like Dayton Power and Light for just $0.03 per kilowatt-hour, according to Paul Wren, CEO of YSRE. In addition, the Village may have to hire additional staff to manage the excess power.

While the Village now procures about one-third of its electricity from renewables, this percentage will increase to about two-thirds of current use when new hydroelectric projects the Village recently signed up for come online in 2015, according to Cundiff. The Village’s contract for landfill gas, which makes up nearly 30 percent of current use, will expire at the end of 2011. An option to participate in a new natural gas plant through AMP was also proposed last week.

“We’ve been pushing to get more renewables through hydropower, so Yellow Springs really wants to be a leader in the field,” said Energy Board member Pat Murphy. “We’ve been moving faster than AMP sometimes wants us to move.”

Paul Wren of YSRE, which birthed the idea of a solar farm in Yellow Springs and brought on MeLink to develop it, spoke at the meeting of the project’s potential for new local jobs.

“It is our intent to use all local people for our piece of the business,” which may include installation, operation and maintenance of the system in a separate contract with SolarVision, Wren said. “That will require labor … and we will be hiring locally for those activities.”

For example, MeLink will hire 12 people to install a 1.54-megawatt array at the Cincinnati Zoo on a canopy over the parking lot, according to Jeremy Chapman of MeLink.

MeLink has specialized in energy-efficiency equipment since it was founded in 1987 and more recently has begun working on renewable energy projects. The company has installed a 61-kilowatt solar array in partnership with Dayton Power & Light at the Mound Advanced Technology Center in Miamisburg and a 100-kilowatt array at its offices (1,000 kilowatts is equivalent to 1 megawatt). In the proposed arrangement with SolarVision, MeLink would design, build and procure supplies for the array, including the thin-film solar modules, mounting racks and inverters.

SolarVision, founded in 2008, has installed a 249-kilowatt photovoltaic system at Washington Court House’s water treatment plant, a 224-kilowatt system at a community center in Athens, 200 kilowatts at primary schools in Newcomerstown and a 68-kilowatt array at a Worthington elementary school, the oldest of which became operational last March. All are connected to investor-owned utilities Dayton Power and Light or American Electric Power.

A comparable project to what SolarVision has proposed in Yellow Springs is a 3-megawatt contract that SolarVision has with the City of Celina, which is also a member of AMP. The city may soon add 2 additional megawatts to the proposed array, which has not yet been constructed. Village Electric and Water Superintendent Fox has been in touch with his counterpart in Celina to discuss technical requirements.

SolarVision’s investors may be enticed by a federal tax credit, ending this year, which would allow them to receive a five-year accelerated depreciation in addition to a 30-percent tax credit. To receive the tax incentives, the project has to come online by the end of 2011, requiring a timely response by Village Council to Solar-Vision’s power-purchase agreement. Another incentive for the project is the requirement that investor-owned utilities either produce renewable energy or purchase renewable energy credits, or RECs, from those who do. A 2-megawatt array would generate an additional $600,000 to $700,000 of income to investors per year under current Ohio law, Albert said in an interview.

The Village is already buying some of its power from solar energy. Last fall the Village signed a 30-year contract for 810 kilowatts of solar with East Coast firm Standard Energy, Inc. through AMP for an initial rate of $0.085 per kilowatt hour, to increase by 2 percent each year after 2012. In addition, the Village would receive half of the proceeds from the sale of its RECs. Yellow Springs has applied to be a host site for a 1- to 2-megawatt solar array through the project, though Standard Energy has indicated that it is looking for land that could accommodate arrays on the order of 20 megawatts.

As for the economic advantages, many of the details have yet to be worked out, including how much the Village could save during peak consumption hours, when solar happens to be most productive. According to Chapman, 90 percent of the electricity from a solar array is produced from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which coincides with peak demand.

“The biggest advantage is the peak production is in the summertime when the peak loads are happening,” largely due to air conditioning use, according to Energy Board member Reggie Stratton. “So you’re paying seven cents for power and you’re avoiding the peak costs from AMP,” he said.

“And you feel good about 20 percent of your energy source coming from clean energy.”

Villagers with questions about the SolarVision proposal can send them to

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