Expansion eyed at solar farm

ESCANABA — The solar energy farm at the Delta County Airport will soon be growing bigger. A proposed expansion of the facility was approved by the Escanaba City Council at a joint meeting with the city’s electrical advisory committee Thursday.

Glendon Brown, vice chairperson of the electrical advisory committee, presented a diagram of the proposed expansion.

“It shows how you might expand that existing site about 41.5 percent,” he said.

Brown said plans for the expansion call for the addition of a sixth row of solar panels to the south of the existing solar energy farm and the addition of six segments to its west side. He and Electric Superintendent Mike Furmanski worked with GRNE Solar on the expansion’s design.

“It adds 1,458 more panels — that would take this up to 4,968 panels,” Brown said.

Currently, the solar energy farm has a maximum capacity of 0.9 megawatts AC. The expansion project is expected to bring this up to 1.29 megawatts AC.

The addition of the panels to the solar energy farm should result in lower costs for people who choose to buy panels at the facility, Brown said. Currently, each solar panel costs about $407; once the expansion is in place, the cost is expected to fall to roughly $390.

Brown also spoke about why he feels it is important the expansion be implemented now.

“We’re projecting our levelized cost of generation is significantly less than any of our contracts that we’re paying now for energy,” he said. The estimated incremental 25-year levelized cost of energy for the expanded solar energy farm was $.0347/kWh; in contrast, the city’s current energy contracts range from $.0555 to $.0424/kWh.

Other factors mentioned by Brown included doing the expansion now would allow for the age of all equipment used in the solar energy farm to remain similar and his concerns the 330-watt Canadian Solar panels used in the existing facility may stop being manufactured.

All studies necessary for the expansion have already been done as part of the approval process for the original facility. However, a study must be re-submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration at a cost of $3,500.

The electrical advisory committee recommended to council it move forward with the solar expansion project at a cost not to exceed $510,000. Funds for the project will come from the city’s electric fund.

Council approved the recommendation, along with an additional motion the solar energy farm be renamed in honor of Brown and his wife.

According to Furmanski, work on the solar energy farm expansion could start as soon as this summer.

In other business:

– the extension of an existing power purchase agreement with NextEra through May 2030 was approved.

– attendees heard a presentation from Furmanski and Utility Financial Solutions, LLC Vice President Dawn Lund on a potential electric rate increase. Lund recommended that a rate increase of 1.75 percent be considered for the 2019-20 fiscal year and that a 2 percent bandwidth be used. No formal decisions on the matter were made during the joint meeting.

– Furmanski gave attendees of the meeting a brief update on the electric department’s current activities.