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Tiffin eyes solar

Council discusses $17.8 thousand PV system

By Shianne Fisher
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN– Add Tiffin to the list of Johnson County cities envisioning a brighter future for their public buildings.
The Tiffin City Council met with a representative of Moxie Solar, a North-Liberty-based turnkey solar operation, during an April 19 work session to discuss the addition of a 6.05 kW commercial photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of city hall.
City Administrator Doug Boldt said the council feels adding solar is a “no-brainer” for the city.
“It’s not that big of a capital expense and it presents the right image,” he added.
The proposed system costs $17,847.50 ($2.95 per watt) and consists of 22 panels. At an annual consumption of 17,757 kilowatt hours (kWh) at $0.153 per kWh and annual production of 7,991 kWh, the estimated payback time is 8.23 years.
At the end of 25 years, the estimated energy savings would total $54,246.94 – a 204 percent return on investment.
Over that same time period, the system is estimated to offset 286,156 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to keeping 27 passenger vehicles off the road for one year, diverting 46 tons of waste from the landfill or saving 139,418 pounds of coal from being burned, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculator.
Boldt pointed out that the solar panels atop city hall would be one of the first things people saw when coming into town from Interstate 80.
“That’s the image we want to present,” he added.
City hall could be the first building to see solar but most likely won’t be the last. The council would also like to add solar panels to the new wastewater treatment plant.
“That’s actually how this whole thing started,” said Boldt. “We’d like for this to be the first step to see how we can integrate it into the wastewater project.”
Tiffin is just one example of a municipal trend toward clean energy.
North Liberty is also seeking proposals for solar arrays at the city’s Streets and Parks campus and on top of the North Liberty Fire Station. The proposals, which should indicate a generation of at least 60 percent of each building’s electricity needs, were due April 29.
Last fall, Johnson County contracted with Moxie Solar to add an 86 kWh solar array to its Secondary Roads facility and is looking to add solar panels to the roof of the Health and Human Services Building.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry, expects the 27 gigawatts (GW) of solar energy installed in the United States in 2015 to increase to 100 GW by 2020. This is largely due to the federal 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit. The Iowa Department of Revenue grants an additional 50 percent of the federal credit up to $5,000 as of Jan. 1. In 2015, Iowa awarded $5,075,917 in solar energy system tax credits.
Since it is a municipality, the City of Tiffin does not qualify for the federal and state tax credits individuals and businesses do. Chris Hoffman, Moxie Solar business developer, said Tiffin could either purchase the solar array outright or finance the system through a power purchase agreement– wherein an investor buys the solar arrays to take advantage of tax credits.
“In a nutshell the power purchase agreement tends to be the way to go if you have a big expense,” said Hoffman. He explained since Tiffin’s system would be a relatively cheaper one, an up-front purchase is wiser. “That being said you may have some business or folks that live in Tiffin that would like to do this for you and buy those tax credits.”
A few council members expressed concern about how long the city planned to be in the building and whether they would see their entire return on investment.
“If it’s still owned by the city, you’re still putting power back in the grid,” said councilman Mike Ryan. “The only way you lose is if you sell it.”
Boldt said he couldn’t see the city moving into another building before the estimated payback time of 8.23 years but an addition is likely in city hall’s future, which could call for even more solar arrays in the next few years.
Councilman Al Havens asked about whether the system would include battery storage.
Although city hall would experience an area power outage like any other building, “It’s actually kind of a nice thing,” Hoffman said. “On a Sunday afternoon for example you’re not using the building but that solar array is up there kicking out and producing energy that’s going into the grid for Alliant Energy.” A meter, monitored by Alliant, would allow the city to utilize unused energy at a later date.
Hoffman also noted the estimates on production are not rough estimates but numbers from the Department of Energy, gathered using the geographic location of city hall. He added, due to industry product changes the capacity of the Tiffin system has been slightly lowered and therefore will be cheaper than the $17.8 thousand.
Boldt said the council will likely address a formal proposal from Moxie in the next month.
Moxie, founded in 2008 originally as Greenhall Industries, operates in Eastern Iowa, Upper Missouri and Western Illinois.