KENDALLVILLE – Approximately 20 residents of Kendallville asked their questions Thursday evening at a briefing session on a proposed solar field on the former McCray Refrigerator industrial site.
Mayor Suzanne Handshoe hosted the meeting, where solar energy experts Eric Hesher and Doug Alhfield of Renewable Energy Systems in Avilla and municipal finance expert Eric Walsh, CPA and partner of BakerTilly, presented in panel style.
The proposed solar field would take up most of the 11 acre McCray property on Wayne Street, one block west of Main Street, and extend from the west end of the property to Mill Street.
The city has been pondering what to do with the property since the McCray factory burned in a massive fire in June 2018 and the site was evacuated. A solar field had been one of the earliest ideas and was considered financially unrealistic for a while before the city recently received updated cost and funding information.
A small area on the north side of the property on Wayne Street is planned for a small pocket park in the vicinity. Another plot of land is reserved as a “proposed construction site”, for which Mayor Suzanne Handshoe has planned a possible storage building.
The proposed solar array would include 1,174 tracking panels – the small, reflective blue-tinted glass that sits on top of the arrays – and 2,702 fixed panels for a total power generation of approximately 1.55 megawatts.
The electricity generated by the solar field would help to significantly reduce the annual operating costs of the sewage treatment plant.
Currently, the city spends about $ 216,500 per year on electricity in the facility, but it is expected that a solar field could reduce that by about 82% to about $ 38,000 per year.
The city estimates that savings of approximately $ 6.7 million could be achieved in the first 30 years of using the solar field.
The project is expected to cost approximately $ 2.35 million to build and will require approximately $ 2.43 million of borrowing.
The city is considering a six-year loan that would bring low payments for the first five years with a balloon payment of about $ 2.1 million after installing the field in 2026 and hopefully already savings.
Julia Tipton, General Manager of the Community Learning Center, where the meeting took place on Thursday evening, also spoke about the solar panels on the roof of the center and their effectiveness in reducing energy costs.
According to Tipton, the CLC used the installation of 1,250 solar panels on the roof as a “learning opportunity” to study the building's energy consumption and costs. In his former middle school life, the building's energy bill for heating alone was $ 5,000 to $ 7,000 per month. During the summer, the cost dropped to $ 2,000-2,500, but the building wasn't air-conditioned.
The CLC's solar field has reduced energy costs, even with air conditioning added, through net metering credits that were consumed from June through September producing more electricity than the center, Tipton said. The credits will be applied to the CLC's bills in the cooler months.
A resident asked why McCray's solar panel warranty was 30 years. Hesher stated that the solar panels have a 25 year performance guarantee, which means that they will never produce less than 80% of their original power capacity. He said that exposure to the sun will slightly degrade the panels' ability to generate electricity, but most panels will not go below that 80% threshold. Panel errors are rare, he said.
Another resident asked where the solar panel is made and how long it would take to install the solar panel once the project is approved. According to Hesher, the panels are made in Minnesota and Canada, and the inverters are made in Boulder, Colorado and Germany.
The approval process takes about three months and the construction of the solar field takes about six months, Hesher said.
Local bankers Jerry Kessler and Larry Doyle asked various questions about financing the solar field and how savings could be used.
Eric Walsh of BakerTilly said funding for the McCray solar field project is based on funding from the city's current sewage rates, with no TIF or other funding sources. Financial negotiations with banks will take place after the project is given the go-ahead from the city council.
The last question came from a resident asking about the efficiency of the solar panel on the ground, how the McCray panel is proposed, and the roof panel installed on CLC.
According to Hesher, the roof panel is a little less efficient than a panel on the floor because of the angle of the panels and the air circulation around them. He found that a roof installation requires a structural study to determine whether the building can support the weight of the panels.