Councilman Derrin Roberts

Councilmen Garland Gates and Derrin Roberts listen as legislation surrounding a new electric generation facility within the city of Shelby. 

SHELBY – The city of Shelby approved a series of legislation on Monday to advance a solar energy project more than two years in the making.

Shelby City Council unanimously passed three resolutions entering into an agreement with American Electric Power (AEP) for a photovoltaic electric generation facility. Photovoltaic solar panels convert light into energy.

"This is extraordinary for the city to add to our portfolio of power sources," said Councilman Garland Gates. "It's memorable."

According to Peter Protopappas from AEP, the site for the solar energy field would include 14 acres off of State Street in Shelby. It would consist of several thousand 370-watt photovoltaic panels to make about 2.5 megawatts, representing 10 to 15 percent of peak shaving energy and 3 to 4 percent of annual energy use.

Protopappas said the panels will stand roughly 4 to 5 feet above the ground, and uses a tracking system to follow the sun and collect energy whenever the sun is out, 365 days a year. The entire solar field will produce 3,500 megawatt hours per year.

For John Ensman, the city's director of utilities, there's no downside to solar energy.

"The benefits of having solar behind our meter is the effect of having a generator behind the meter," Ensman said. "It's another source of energy sitting there to help reduce the cost of energy for the community of Shelby. The realized rate is phenomenal when you start factoring in the savings you have for capacity and transmission, that's where the trust cost savings come into play."

Council discussed the details of the project during a committee of the whole on Monday evening. Once the project is up and running, the city of Shelby will be consuming 100 percent of the energy produced from the field.

Councilman Nathan Martin noted that in the future, battery storage could be an option to store energy for non-daylight hours and peak power shavings.

"Energy is hitting the system at a constant pace," Martin explained. "It is literally getting used up as we get it, but one of the benefits for peak shaving is to store it up when it's done, and when there is peak power time we can release it similar to what we would do in turning on a generator."

Protopappas said the photovoltaic panels would provide benefits during peak power times even without battery storage.

"Typically those days happen when it's very hot and everybody's turning on lights and air conditioning," he said. "It happens also when it's very sunny, which means this array would potentially offset up to its capacity. If the sun is shining and everything lines up perfectly, there will be 2 megawatts of savings. All those benefits go to the city for both transmission and capacity."

The upfront cost to the city would be $195,000 for the purchase of the property where the solar field would be built. However, Ensman expects that cost to be recouped in less than a year; the first year of savings is estimated to be $205,000, with an estimated $3 million in savings over the next 10 years as part of the project agreement.

If all goes to plan, the solar field will be up and running in mid-December.

"I suspect if we meet our goals, it will be a very cold ribbon-cutting," Protopappas said.

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