OTTUMWA — Solar panels aren’t the best bet for the city at Bridge View Center. Batteries might be an option. But the Beach? Now that can use the sun.
The city began looking at whether solar energy could benefit city facilities began in early 2018. On Tuesday, Michael Halley of Ideal Energy had some answers. The initial concept of solar panels powering Bridge View Center turned out not to be the best option.
Bridge View’s energy use is erratic, Halley said. When demand spikes, it most often does so in the evening. That’s not when solar panels can do the most good. It’s possible a battery system might help, though.
Such a system would allow the facility to store power drawn during low-demand, low cost times and release it when the costs are higher. The goal is to even out the use, cutting the most off of the demand when the price is the highest.
The Beach may be a good candidate for solar panels. Halley said it was the most attractive of the three options from a financial perspective. Energy use at the Beach spikes in the summer, when a high sun can help.
One of the complications for Ottumwa is that some of the tax credits available for private property or businesses aren’t open to non-taxable entities like cities. “It’s not just available to anyone with money to spare,” Halley said.
There could be some costs for the city beyond panels or batteries, though. Councilman Marc Roe asked whether the electrical junctions at city properties might need work to handle the installations. Halley said that’s possible.
Proximity also matters. While panels need not be installed on the building or buildings they serve, closer is better.
“Are there other locations on city properties that might be of interest?” asked Councilwoman Holly Berg.
“It’s worth exploring,” Halley replied, though he added space and storage are considerations for any site.
The city’s exploration of solar energy takes place as Alliant Energy asks the state for a large rate increase. There were concerns during the last legislative session that regulations might restrict solar use, an effort supported by Alliant and obliquely referenced in a resolution criticizing the rate increase council members passed earlier in the meeting.
When Halley said installation would be within months once a decision is made, Berg pointed to the legislative questions as possible incentive.
“Legislation changes,” she said. “It’s something we want to think about sooner rather than later.”
Council members did not vote on any action on solar panels. The issue remains under examination.