SPRINGDALE -- The city will flip the switch Friday to convert the Springdale Recreation Center to electricity provided by solar power and to save an estimated $24,000 a year.
Officials have signed an agreement with Ozarks Electric Cooperative to provide the city with power for 20 years from the 7,000-panel, 25-acre solar park on a mountain top north of Lincoln. The array contains 1,182 panels that will be dedicated to capturing power for Springdale, which the city will buy as electricity from Ozarks. Today's Power, a subsidiary company of the cooperative, built, operates and maintains the farm.
Springdale officials expect the power generated the city's solar panels will provide 100% of the recreation center's needs for 10 months, said Wyman Morgan, the city's director of administration and finance. The rest will power the animal shelter and three fire stations for eight months.
Any energy generated by the city's dedicated solar panels, but not used, will be sold elsewhere. The city will receive credit for those kilowatts, which can offset the fees and costs related to accounts, said Todd Clouse, manager of energy services for Ozarks Electric.
"Let the sun shine in," Morgan said.
Arkansas cities, counties, schools and other entities are authorized to enter lease agreements for solar energy projects under Act 464 of 2019. The state has been a leader in solar job growth, reporting a 30% increase from 2017 to 2018, according to the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association. Only five states saw a higher year over year growth during that period. Arkansas ranked 18th among the 50 states in solar generation in 2018, adding 118 megawatts of solar generation, according to the association.
The Lincoln solar park also serves the city of Lincoln, Lincoln schools and the city of Elkins, Clouse said.
Washington County in April 2020 went online with the first of its solar projects. The county's Quorum Court spent $8 million on an energy upgrade project, of which the solar panels play just a small part, said Dwight Gonzales, the county's director of Building and Grounds.
Bright, sunny days mean the panels are storing the sun's energy for use during the evenings of summer's peak usage. The county owns the infrastructure, which means the county gets 100% of the power collected, Gonzales explained.
He said he and county officials are very pleased with the solar project, although an amount of overall savings for the year has not yet been released by the contractor for the project.
Fayetteville has used solar energy to power its two wastewater treatment plants since September 2019.
Peter Nierengarten, the director of the city's Sustainability Department, said the city works with Ozarks Electric and Today's Power in a program similar to Springdale's, although the solar panels are installed at both plants.
He said the city has seen reduction in its regular electric bills, but numbers hadn't been tallied for the first full year of service.
The city currently spends $75,000 a year with Ozarks to power the animal shelter, three fire stations and the recreation center, Morgan said.
The electrical utility currently charges the city 8.26 to 10.28 cents per kilowatt hour for power.
The 20-year contract for solar-generated electricity will see the city paying 0.055 cents per kilowatt hour -- with no increases, Morgan said. Any power the city uses that's not solar will be provided at the regular rate.
The farm will generate about 400 kilowatt hours per year for the city, Morgan said.
A 1,000-watt light bulb can shine for 10 hours on 1 kilowatt hour, Clouse said.
He explained power generated by the solar panels dedicated to Springdale will go straight into the Ozarks electrical grid, with a metering system recording how much the city's panels provides versus how much it uses.
Power generated by Springdale's panels also will flow into a battery system at the solar park and could be discharged to the electrical grid in times of peak use.
Clouse noted the area's recent hot temperatures already have required more power than the solar system can provide during the afternoon hours.
"People get home from work," he said. "They want to cook. They want to clean. They want to do things when they get home. We have the ability to hit a button and discharge that stored energy. We used the battery system to help our members without buying power at a higher cost."
Ozarks provides its solar customers with the stored power at the same rate as the solar power, Clouse said.
The arrangement with Ozarks Electric and Today's Power fit the city's needs, Morgan said.
The utility company owns and maintains the solar equipment for the city, he said. And the city did not have to spend capital improvement money to build the infrastructure.
The city is simply buying the electricity, which officials expect to be offset by cost savings, Morgan said.
Clouse said the city's account comes with fees, taxes and other costs commonly associated with utility accounts. He expects the excess electricity generated by the Springdale panels to cover those costs.
The city also pays accounts with Southwestern Electric Power Co. and the Carroll Electric Cooperative for city facilities in the service areas of those companies.
City officials currently are working with Ozarks to create separate solar accounts to power its Public Works facilities and ball parks, which also lie in the Ozarks' service area, Morgan said.
FLIP, NOT BLIP
City staff and residents using the Springdale Recreation Center on Friday won't be plunged into darkness when the solar-generated power is activated, Morgan said.
Chad Wolf, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, reported the recreation center's 2020 electric bill was $47,000 in 2020.
The 120,000-square-foot building runs 12 air conditioners and 142 big LED lights above its sports courts. The recreation center runs second behind the public library in terms of top electricity use in the city, where climate control and some lighting was needed even when the library was closed during the covid-19 outbreak, Morgan said.
The Recreation Center is open 87 hours a week, Wolf said.
Flip the switch
Springdale will convert its recreation center to solar power with a ceremony.
When: 10 a.m. Friday
Where: Ozarks Electric Cooperative Solar Farm, 11114 Wedington Black Top Road, Lincoln