Esky gives OK for solar energy bids

ESCANABA — The Escanaba City Council gave the electric department the go-ahead Thursday to seek bids to construct a proposed solar energy system to offset the city’s future electric costs by using free power from the sun.

For the past couple years, the Escanaba Electrical Advisory Committee (EAC) has been working on a proposal for a one-megawatt solar garden within the city limits, explained Electric Superintendent Mike Furmanski at council’s regular meeting at city hall Thursday.

Escanaba is considering leasing five to seven acres of land at the Delta County Airport to construct a utility-scale solar generation system. It would benefit all city electric customers by lowering costs for the city’s entire electrical system.

Westwood Multi-Disciplined Surveying & Engineering of Eden Prairie, Minn., conducted studies last fall to assess various environmental factors on the property being considered, said Furmanski, noting the location is “a very good site” for the solar project. Testing included wind and snow loads, groundwater levels, and soil conditions.

An agreement has been reached “in principle” with the county airport to lease the land for 30 years with additional five-year renewals, said Furmanski. The exact location needed for the project will be determined after the bid proposals are received, he added.

Furmanski also informed council the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expected to approve the site for a solar energy garden after an appraisal of the property is completed later this month.

Studies performed by Westwood Engineering showed the site passed a solar glare analysis as required by the FAA, along with a solar shade analysis and a geotechnical assessment on two different types of piles which support the solar panels, according to Glendon Brown, an EAC member who has been spearheading the project.

“The three Westwood study reports are included in the (bid) documents and should provide a sound basis for well-designed proposals,” Brown stated in information included in council’s packet.

“These studies enable potential bidders to reduce their risk and uncertainty, and lower their installed cost proposals,” he added.

The request for proposal, or RFP, was reviewed by the EAC earlier this month and seeks a turn-key bid from the project’s start to finish including engineering, procurement, construction and start-up.

“The RFP defines the solar project specifications and minimum requirements for bid proposals,” stated Brown, noting each bidder is also being asked to submit optional additional proposals.

“The bidder is requested to specify how battery storage would be added in the future and what solar project modifications would be required,” he stated, explaining the battery storage would provide for future solar energy generation to reduce the city’s transmission costs when needed, such as during peak demand hours.

Bidders can also present bids on a solar power purchase agreement where the solar contractor would own the solar energy system and the city would have the option to purchase the facility in the future.

Furmanski told council the cost of the project will be determined by the bids received and will not include the cost for a transformer, which the city will provide.

Following Thursday’s meeting, Brown noted the proposed contracts will also determine whether or not the solar energy system will be worth the costs to move forward with the project that is anticipated to have a life expectancy of at least 25 years.

“Time will tell because it all depends on what the installation costs are that determines what the cost of (power) generation is,” said Brown.

Bids on the one-megawatt solar energy project and additional options are due by March 9. If RFP objectives are met, a bid is scheduled to be awarded by early April. Construction is anticipated to last about six months with the solar energy system starting up by early November.

If the bid proposals do not meet the city’s 25-year levelized-cost-of-generation objective, then the city may not accept any bids.

Potential funding sources for the solar project include the city’s renewable energy fund, energy optimization rebates, federal tax credits for the solar energy system, and the city’s electric fund.

According to information in council’s packet, once the final costs are determined and the project is underway, the city plans to offer residential and commercial customers an opportunity to invest in the solar system and receive a credit on their monthly electric bill.

Solar contractors interested in bidding on the project can access the RFP documents on the city’s website at www.escanaba.org/citybidlist.

Escanaba has been purchasing wholesale power from NextEra Energy Inc. since January 2012 and has a contract with the energy supplier through fiscal year 2023-24.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net

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