Fayetteville approves solar power system, moves to 72 percent clean energy

A solar installation in Hutchinson, Minnesota powers the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Photo: Clean Energy Resource Teams

Fayetteville will soon take a major step toward its goal of running completely on clean energy.

City Council members last week voted unanimously to approve a 20-year agreement with Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power Inc. to install solar panels at the city’s two wastewater treatment facilities. It will be the state’s largest solar power system on municipal land, and the only system in Arkansas with onsite utility-scale storage.

The solar panels will be used to completely power the Noland Wastewater Treatment Facility and the Westside Water Treatment Facility, which are the city’s two largest electricity-consuming accounts. Combined, the two plants make up about 67 percent of the overall electricity used by city-owned accounts.

Peter Nierengarten, the city’s sustainability director, said the system is projected to save the city $6 million in energy costs over the 20-year period, and will see a return on the investment in just over three years.

The project will also raise clean energy consumption by city facilities from 16 percent to 72 percent. The council in January approved the Energy Action Plan, which features several goals, including operating all city facilities on 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

Today’s Power will manage project construction and provide full operations and maintenance of the solar arrays and energy storage facilities, leasing the necessary acreage from the city. Ozarks Electric will upgrade and maintain existing electricity connections at the sites. The arrays will be integrated with native plants instead of using gravel or pavement.

Nierengarten said the city will have the option to purchase the equipment at a depreciated cost at the end of the 20-year agreement.

Each treatment plant will include an array of solar photovoltaic panels capable of generating 5 megawatts of electricity and a battery storage facility. Any excess electricity will be sent to the electrical grid for use by Ozarks Electric, or relayed to the battery storage facility, which can store 12 megawatt hours of electricity. Ozarks Electric will use stored electricity to provide power to its members during peak-consumption times like summer.

“This year, the City Council showed great vision and leadership for their residents when they approved the Energy Action Plan in January 2018,” said Mayor Lioneld Jordan. “Through this important agreement with Today’s Power and Ozarks Electric, the Fayetteville community moves closer to several goals in the plan. The approval of this solar power and storage project creates the renewable energy our community desires, uses existing city-owned assets more efficiently, adds jobs and promotes economic development.”

Nierengarten said construction is expected to begin in spring 2019 and be complete by September 2019. Operations should begin shortly after that.