ROGERS -- City Council members on Tuesday unanimously voted in favor of a $5 million energy savings project that will update the heating and air, lighting and weatherization in 23 city buildings.
However, a $12.2 million solar panel project was tabled by a 7-1 vote. The panels would make Rogers the first municipality in Arkansas to use 100% renewable energy, said facilities development manager David Hook. A special meeting to discuss the solar project is planned for noon Nov. 3.
In April, the council approved hiring Johnson Controls of Little Rock to do an energy audit on city facilities. The company recommended the energy savings project and the solar panels, Hook said.
The projects are expected to pay for themselves in 20 years, Hook said. The company guarantees the projects will save enough money to largely cover the cost and if the improvements don't meet the guaranteed numbers the company has set, it will write the city a check for the difference, he said.
Both projects would be paid for out of the city's general fund, said Casey Wilhelm, finance director. The money would be paid back to the fund from savings realized over the next 20 years, she said. By self-financing, the city will save up to $1 million in interest on the energy savings project and up to $3 million on the solar panel project, she said.
The energy savings project will include repairing or replacing 73 heating and air units and more than 400,000 light fixtures, and improving weatherization and insulation, Hook said. It will also integrate thermostats and lighting controls, he said. All of the items identified in the audit are at least 15 years old and many need repairs, he said.
Timing is critical on the energy savings project, because costs could increase drastically in the next month due to shortages, Hook said. There is also an 18-month lead time on ordering heating and air units, he said.
"Part of this program is to get ahead of the needs and not be reactionary on issues in the future," Hook said.
Council member Marge Wolf noted that Rogers has been "band-aiding" some of these problems for a long time, especially heating and air units at the Police Department. Council member Clay Kendall agreed the project will pay for itself over time.
The proposed 4.5-megawatt solar panels would be installed at the city recycling center, Fire Station No. 8 and the Police Department, Hook said. At the Police Department, the panels would be part of a carport structure that would protect the fleet of vehicles, he said.
The energy produced by the panels would be deducted from the city's energy bills, according to Peter Masonis, public information manager.
Utility companies in Arkansas compensate customers with solar panels 1 watt of energy for every watt of electricity generated by the panels, but after 2023 utility companies will likely be giving customers 0.7 or 0.6 watts of electricity per watt generated, Hook said.
Other Arkansas cities with solar panels are generating 15% to 40% more electricity than the company guarantees, Hook said. Meanwhile, energy companies estimated the cost of electricity will continue to increase 2.5% to 3% a year, he said.
During the Finance Committee meeting, Kendall said he is concerned the solar panels will not provide a good return on investment over 30 years because of the time-value of money. He asked for a few days to calculate the numbers before making a decision.
Hook said Johnson Controls has guaranteed the cost of the solar panels through Oct. 28; afterward, the price could go up substantially. Between the committee meeting and the council meeting, he called the company and was able to extend the price guarantee until Nov. 4.
Kendall said during the council meeting he loves the concept and hopes it works out financially, but again asked for more time to make sure the decision made financial sense.
Betsy Reithemeyer, a council member, voted against tabling the ordinance. She said the council had had enough time to review the proposal and it should move forward immediately.
Other actions taken:
• Accepted an annual Community Development Block Grant for $462,101 to be spent on salaries, public service projects, housing and public construction projects.
• Certified an endorsement for Pel-Freeze to participate in the tax back program. The company plans to use the program for a $2.1 million expansion that will create 31 new jobs, according to Raymond Burns, president and CEO of the Rogers Lowell Chamber of Commerce.
• Amended the 2021 budget to recognize $100,864 in insurance proceeds to reimburse the city for hail damage to the roof of city hall.
• Tabled an ordinance to allow a parklet program in downtown parking spaces in order to plan a town hall meeting to get feedback from business owners.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette