Rogers – A $5 million city power supply and $12.2 million solar panel project is underway as crews look to modernize the heating, air, lighting and weather in 23 buildings in the city.
“All parts of the project have somehow started, but it will be some time before any part is completely completed,” said David Hooke, Facilities Development Manager.
Work includes replacing fluorescent lights with LEDs, improving building conditions and installing energy management control systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. Building envelopes are the building components that create a thermal barrier between the interior and the exterior.
Hawke said work on lighting improvements and building envelopes has been done on several buildings and should be completed within a few months.
The city council hired Johnson Controls of Little Rock last year to conduct an energy audit of city facilities. The company recommended an energy saving project and solar panels.
The board approved the energy-saving project at the October 26 meeting and the solar panel project at the November 4 meeting.
The Solar Array project will be the largest publicly owned solar power facility in Arkansas, according to a press release from Johnson Controls.
Once the project is complete, it will make Rogers one of the first cities in the state to use 100% renewable energy to power its municipal facilities.
According to Hawk, the next phase of projects that will cross the finish line will be the HVAC upgrades.
“Orders have been placed for the HVAC units, but they will start in August before they start arriving at various locations,” he said. “Some of these units likely won’t arrive and will be installed until late this year due to supply issues.”
“New wiring has been installed to all control system facilities, but the control units themselves will not be installed until the HVAC improvements are complete,” he said.
Although the paperwork process has begun for the solar portion of the project, it will not be completed for another nine to 12 months due to approval procedures through the state and utility companies, according to Hook.
The solar arrays, totaling 4.6 megawatts, will be installed at the city’s recycling center, Fire Station No. 8 and in a covered parking lot at the police department.
A megawatt is a unit of electrical energy equal to one million watts. A megawatt of solar power can power an average of 110 homes a year in Arkansas, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national nonprofit trade association for the industry.
Rogers solar equipment has a guaranteed life of up to 30 years, according to a release from Johnson Controls.
The panels are expected to generate more than 157 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, with a value of more than $15 million in utilities, operations and maintenance provision, according to the statement.
Projects are paid from city reserves.
Chief Financial Officer Casey Wilhelm said the city has paid $4.5 million so far out of the roughly $18 million contract for the projects.
It added that funds for the projects totaled $18.5 million, although the contract was less.
Wilhelm said the city used $1.3 million from the 2018 bond issue, which included building improvements to the police department’s HVAC system, to cover new HVAC units. She said the city collected, at its request, the council to cover any unexpected costs.
She said the unused credits would go back to the city’s general fund reserves.
At an interest rate of about 2.2% and payback over 20 years, the city will provide about $1 million in benefits by self-financing the energy saving project and $3 million in benefits by self-financing the solar project, according to Wilhelm.
Johnson Controls ensured that both projects would pay themselves within 20 years, and agreed to pay the difference if the improvements didn’t match the numbers the company had set.
As a result of the project, Hook said in November, the city’s energy bills would be reduced by 1 watt of energy for every watt of electricity generated.
Hook said at the time that other cities generated between 15% and 40% more electricity than expected and made more savings.
There is a potential financial benefit, Masonis said, but the primary benefit would be to become energy neutral.
“We are so excited to be part of the start of this movement in Arkansas,” he said.
Nearly 90% of renewable energy transactions by local governments in the United States have been solar deals, although wind projects have shown much greater capacity, according to the US Cities Climate Challenge, an initiative launched by Bloomberg Philanthropies to track low carbon emissions. The average capacity of wind power projects is 72 megawatts per project, more than three times the average capacity of a solar power project.
According to the initiative, access to steady winds is rare in most cities, with exceptions in the Southwest and Midwest regions.
Rogers is not alone in the effort to convert Northwest Arkansas and the surrounding area into renewable energy for public property. Nor is it alone in using solar energy.
Clarksville was the first city in Arkansas to run its state operations with 100 percent clean energy, according to Barry Sellers, director of business development for Clarksville Connected Utilities.
The municipality-owned facilities receive enough power from two solar farms, owned and operated by Scenic Hill Solar, to offset the city’s operations. The solar arrays were built in 2017 and 2019, according to the facility’s website.
The facility’s power supply is largely generated by renewables from hydroelectric and wind energy, though the facility also gets power from some conventional fossil fuel plants, Sellers said.
Clarksville has a population of 9,476 people, according to the US Census Bureau.
The two Fayetteville wastewater treatment plants have been running on solar energy since 2019.
The two plants’ solar arrays, each 5 megawatts, generate enough power to support about two-thirds of the city’s municipal operations, according to Peter Nieringarten, the city’s director of environment.
Today’s Power Inc., he said. , a subsidiary of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, owns 99% of the solar systems while the city owns 1% and the land. The Electric Ozarks Cooperative is also part of the trilateral power purchase agreement.
According to Nierengarten, each manufacturer also has its own battery storage system.
He said solar power purchase agreements such as the Fayetteville Agreement allow cities to take advantage of the federal tax credit for solar energy systems on residential and commercial properties, reducing the cost of a solar array.
He said the deal allowed the city to fix the purchase price of the electricity generated for 20 years. Due to the high rate of retail electricity sales over the past few years, the city is saving more than originally planned. Niringarten said the city saved $400,000 last year due to solar arrays — about $250,000 more than expected.
The total savings through the 20-year agreement was expected to reach $6 million.
Fayetteville adopted an Energy Action Plan in 2019, which set a goal of converting municipal operations to 100% renewable energy by 2030. The city may reach that goal a little earlier than expected, according to Nieringarten.
Springdale converted a recreation center and some fire stations to solar power in June.
Expected to save an estimated $24,000 a year, officials signed an agreement with the Ozarks Electric Cooperative to supply the city with 20-year power from a North Lincoln solar park. Today, Power’s Corporation built, operated and maintained the farm.
The city also agreed in February to sell a $10.2 million bond to fund a solar power project with Today’s Power, Ozarks Electric and Springdale School District.
The project involved the installation of a 2.4 MW solar array and 6.9 MW of storage batteries on a school-owned property near Sonora Middle School.
Today’s Power expects the project to generate 4.8 million kWh annually, offsetting about 95% of the total energy consumed by Tyson School of Innovation, Sonora Middle Schools and Sonora Elementary, according to a company press release.
The project will save the region more than $2 million over the next 25 years, according to Derek Redfern, vice president of member relations at the Ozarks Electric.
“The savings are recovered through a direct fixed power purchase agreement with TPI during this time frame,” he said.
Redfearn said battery storage will reduce power generation requirements during peak periods, potentially saving Ozarks Electric members more than $1.8 million over the next 25 years.
“The project is still under construction and there are only a few more steps left to be completed,” he said.
Unlike Rogers, Bentonville owns its own electric utility and purchases power from Southwestern Electric Power Co. , according to Travis Matlock, the city’s manager of electrical utilities.
Matlock said the city’s purchase agreement with the company will run through the end of 2032. The agreement prohibits the city from installing its own power generation facilities.
“The city cannot own, operate or participate in a large-scale solar project,” Matlock said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t put solar energy on individual buildings.”
In terms of renewable energy, Bentonville has 18 megawatts of hydropower from Oklahoma’s Great River Dam Authority, he said.
Fort Smith is currently undergoing an energy review of municipal operations with the Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company, according to Shari Cooper, city communications director.
Cooper said the city entered into an agreement last fall with OG&E to purchase electricity generated from a solar farm in the branch. She said the city expects to save $47,000 annually from the deal.
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