Solar panels to occupy contaminated East Main site

NEWARK – More than five years after the collapse of an agreement to transform a contaminated East Main Street site into a solar energy field, a new deal has been reached.

Development Director Mark Mauter and Utilities Superintendent Roger Loomis announced the city has a 25-year agreement with American Electric Power OnSite Partners to purchase electricity from a 3,312-solar module field to be installed on the former Newark Processing property.

The city owns the land, located between East Main Street and the Licking River, but provides an easement to AEP OnSite Partners, which will own the facility and sell electricity back to the city.

The city agreed to pay a price per kilowatt which will total about $100,000 annually, depending on the amount of energy produced. The electricity should provide about 30 percent of the power needs for the city’s adjacent wastewater treatment plant.

“I look at this project as a revenue-neutral system,” Loomis said. “Our (costs) are fixed for the next 25 years, for our portion of the electricity. It’s a slight gamble on the city’s part, but I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Dovetail Solar, of Athens, will design and install the equipment, just as it would have done five years ago. But, this time AEP OnSite Partners is the financing partner. In 2011, Westerville-based SolarVision LLC, was going to manage the project.

Dovetail Solar President Al Frasz said much has changed since 2011, when financing the project was more difficult.

“The cost of solar has come down so dramatically over four years now that we can now build the system,” Frasz said. “The sheer cost of materials is down. The manufacturing plants are making millions of units now. We can get more energy in the same square footage, which helps the economics.”

Frasz said the solar modules should be in place by about June. Since digging into the contaminated soil is not permitted, the modules will be mounted on concrete blocks.

Mauter told city council Tuesday the use of the land is the best possible outcome for the site.

“There is old aluminum dross there, with 2 feet of fill and we have to be careful to not disturb that,” Mauter said. “We’re very, very limited on what can be done there. AEP will own and maintain the equipment, not the city. There’s no risk of taxpayers’ dollars.”

In 2011, the city received a $2 million Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund grant to clean up the site, demolish remaining structures and prepare the 66-acre site for redevelopment.

The site includes aluminum dross, a byproduct of the aluminum smelting business. The property has been empty since Newark Processing went bankrupt in 1997.

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