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Utility Board Discusses Solar Farm Option, Beard Resigning from Board

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The Lamar Utility Board conducted their May 24th meeting with business as usual, but with an additional discussion of how to go about creating a solar farm for area customers.  The idea was broached several months ago by board member, Doug Thrall.  He stated at the time that he didn’t want to take away any revenue from the Lamar Utilities Board or from the City of Lamar’s franchise, but wanted to find a way to reduce the bill customers pay for the bonds from the failed Lamar Repowering Project.

Light Plant Superintendent, Houssin Hourieh, said he had been approached that morning from a representative of a company called Cornerstone which indicated an interest in constructing a privately-owned, investor solar farm in the local service area. He asked about potential tax credits and stated he would sell the power to the LUB.  Hourieh said at some point, ARPA would have to be involved. He asked if the representative could offer some kind of a working model to study, as well as the bottom line costs.  Hourieh told the board that ARPA, Arkansas River Power Authority has plans to send a representative to several Nebraska cities to explore the possibilities of solar power, based on operations in that state.

Hourieh discussed numbers with the board, “A ballpark figure for a two megawatt farm would cost about $4M to construct, according to the Cornerstone representative, and you could expect the panels to be operational for about 30 years. It would require a lot of maintenance with one of the biggest costs being the converters.”  Thrall explained that he didn’t want to cut out LUB or Lamar from their fair share of the proceeds from the current operation, so they would receive their current level of payment for maintenance and use of power lines and infrastructure, which would be two kilowatts each from power sales.

“Right now, ARPA is paying Twin Eagles between five and six cents per kilowatt hour for their electricity and sells it to us at 10.85 cents, the price from last month,” explained Hourieh. “With LUB and the city that comes to about another four cents, so the public ends up with around 14.2 cents on their bill,” he said.  Thrall calculated the cost of the solar operation would be five to six cents to build, plus the four to the city and LUB, still coming in under the current rates.  He said as this was a private operation, residents could pay for their own panels for their electric needs and become a member of a cooperative.  Legally, they would have that option, but the city would not be able to do so, as it is still under contract to ARPA.  The power costs to the customer would be factored in the bill.  Hourieh explained, “You look at the performance of whole thing, like wind throughout the month and then you get percentages to each.  Sometimes you’ll have more sun.”

Board member Horning asked about the difference in power loads, winter versus summer. Hourieh replied, “That runs between a 12 megawatt load in the winter and from 21-22 in the summer.”  He added that there is sufficient capacity on the current transmission lines for an additional 10MW at this point.  He stated that one solar panel produces 300 watts each, so it would take three panels to supply power to a standard residence and a customer’s share would be reflected on the bill.  The larger the scale of operation, the cheaper it gets in the long run.  Thrall estimated a 30% savings from what a customer generally pays now, and there would be a minor fee for Reserve and Replacement for equipment.  Hourieh added you have to be mindful of the degradation factor with the panels.  They will start to decline in performance over the years and one of the larger costs is the converters that transfer light to electricity. “There used to be one large converter for an entire farm, but when that went out, the farm went down.  Now they use smaller converters to carry a section of farm, so if one drops out the remainder still operates.”  He said the potential is being discussed by the ARPA board.

In other matters, Rick Beard, Utility Board President, announced he is taking a position with a church in Kansas and would be leaving the area. “It won’t be for another five or six months, but I wanted to provide the board with sufficient time to find a replacement member,” he stated.

By Russ Baldwin

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Filed Under: City of LamarConsumer IssuesCountyEconomyFeaturedUtilities

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