Clyde banking on solar field savings in future

CLYDE – After nearly five years, a 20-acre solar field will be commissioned later this month to provide a second power source for the customers of Clyde Light & Power.

The new Clyde Solar Project could show an annual savings of $200,000 a year in power costs for the City of Clyde and its customers.

“It’s always great to do something green if it’s feasible and makes economic sense,” City Manager Paul Fiser stated.

Fremont businessman Rex Damschroder is also eyeing green energy and added 120-feet of solar panels to the roof of one of his buildings at the Fremont Airport on Ohio 53. While excited about solar power, he said he is not ready to say his green investment is a success.

While Damschroder got into his green energy project in 2015, Clyde City Manager Paul Fiser has been working on the new solar field project for years.

“We started the original proposal in 2011,” he explained. The City of Clyde has its own electric department, which serves nearly all the residents and businesses of the city. The city purchases its power wholesale and distributes that electric to its customers.

The city began working on the Clyde Solar Project with a private company, Solar Vision, which then encountered financial issues. Renewable Energy Capital took over the solar project agreement with the city, according to Fiser. The private firm was to install the solar field and the city purchase the electricity.

Clyde contracted with the latter company to lease Renewable Energy 20-acres of city property for 20 years with a 10-year renewable option for $600,000.  The land is behind the Clyde Wastewater Treatment plant on U.S. 20. The city then received its first payment of $100,000 for the property lease.

“They then assigned the contract documents to AEP,” the city manager explained. AEP Onsite Energy Partners taking over from Renewable Energy. AEP Onsite took over the contract in August 2015 and construction finally began on the solar field at the same time.

Fiser said the solar panels measure three-foot square and 12,000 are being installed on the land. He said these panels follow the sun and are movable.

The solar field is projected to generate more than 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year and will directly supply Clyde L&P.

The benefits for Clyde are multiple. First, the city will receive lease payments.

“The lease of the land is 10 times what we would have received selling it,” Fiser said about property. The land was purchased for possible expansion of the wastewater treatment plant in the future. The money coming in from the lease will now offset the city’s cost associated with the construction of the flow equalization basin at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The city should see its next lease payment in June 2017 and then annually until the full amount is paid. “There really was not a downside with this,” Fiser commented about moving forward with the solar field agreement.

“The biggest benefit, it basically adds to shave the peak, the load peak especially during the summer,” Fiser explained.

Fiser said the cost of solar energy sold by AEP Onsite Energy Partners to Clyde Light & Power will be comparable with the wholesale energy the city now buys for its customers.

Besides that wholesale expense for electric, the city also pays PJM Interconnection – which operate the regional transmission organization that serves most of the Midwest – a capacity charge based on the city’s five highest peak demands for electric during hot summer days. With the solar field, that peak will be lower.

Literally having a solar field in the city’s backyard will drop the city’s transmission costs as the solar power goes directly into the city system – and reduces the peak demand on hot summer days.

At its peak, Fiser said the city draws 37 megawatts of power. The solar field is expected on good days to general 3.5 megawatts, he said. By reducing the city’s peak demand on power being transmitted to Clyde, Clyde Light & Power and its customers could see a $5 million savings over the life of a 25-year contract.

“We’re the only customer, and we are also the landlord,” he said about a situation that is ideal for Clyde.

At the end of the 20-year lease agreement, Clyde can have the land back in original condition or negotiate to keep the solar field in place up to 10 years. Fiser said that is a decision future city leaders will have to make.

While Clyde L&P is seeking savings in the hundreds of thousands, Damschroder said he is still weighing the pros and cons of solar energy on a small scale.

Damschroder had solar panels installed on an airport building roof and is just now beginning to see how it is affecting his energy bill.

“I’m excited about solar energy,” he admitted. Initially he expected that with grants the expense of the solar conversion would be paid back over four years. The government grants have not come through for his business and it will mean the cost recovery will be longer than he expected.

The business owner said he has about 120-feet of solar panel installed on the roof of a building at the airport on Ohio 53. “Every day it is producing,” he said about solar power generation, which he can monitor on a cell phone app.

While the cost recovery may not be as fast as expected, Damschroder is happy that the panels are not taking up valuable farmland. By midsummer he hopes to have a better understanding of the panels’ generation capabilities and if it will generate as much power as his business uses.

“If you get energy that does not use fossil fuel, that’s great,” he said.

The City of Clyde also will have to wait a couple months to have real numbers to determine the benefit of the new solar field.