According to Plant Manager Shawn Beasley, the installation process is still under way, but should be complete soon. “I would say they’re 80 to 90 percent done with the installation right now,” Beasley said in a phone interview July 18, adding that the panels likely won’t be up and running for a few months.

Though Beasley wasn’t able to provide a specific date for the completion of the panel installation, the project is part of a larger project to make improvements at the plant, he said.

City Director of Engineering and Public Works Bob Heady explained that the larger project includes other equipment changes to reduce electrical use at the plant. 

“The high service pumps will be replaced and variable frequency drives will be installed for the motors, the low-service pumps will receive variable frequency drives, (and) the air compressors for the pneumatic valves will be replaced with electric valves,” Heady said in an email last Tuesday.

These changes, he said, should reduce energy consumption. “The city is also working with the AEP Ohio Business Incentive Program to receive incentives for reducing electrical use at the plant,” Heady said.

The solar panels are being installed by Third Sun Solar of Athens, Heady confirmed in a later email, and the total cost of the installation is $411,000. The overall cost of the Water Treatment Plant improvements project is $4,123,000, Heady added.

“The city has received funding through the Ohio EPA’s Water Supply Revolving Loan Account, a program that offers below-market interest rate loans to qualified public entities” to fund the entire project, Heady said in the email. “The loan will be repaid over a 20-year period using revenue from water bills.”

All of the solar energy generated by the new panels will be used by the Water Treatment Plant, Heady said. The panels are expected to generate 178.5 kilowatts of energy, “producing approximately 50 percent of the plant’s electrical needs.”

According to Beasley that estimate could be conservative.

He said that currently, the plant’s monthly usage is close to 200 kilowatts, and that he’s “very optimistic” that the new array will supply a majority of the plant’s electric usage. “It would be nice if our electric bill disappears,” he said, adding that the water treatment plant is the second largest electric account in the city. Even if the bill were just cut back by half, Beasley said, “that would be really good news.”