City, County May Become Buyer of Solar Farm Electricity

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Developing a solar farm in Athens County would necessitate finding a buyer for the electricity, and local officials are exploring having that buyer be Athens city and county government.

“That would be the easiest way to go about doing it,” said Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl, who added that the city is supportive of the idea of creating local, renewable energy.

Roger Wilkens, executive director of the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council, said requests for proposals are being developed for both the city and county to issue, seeking price quotes from companies that could provide electricity for city and county government buildings. The idea is to stipulate that the suppliers must buy electricity from a local solar farm.

Once the requests for proposals are written, they must be reviewed by the city and county, which then must decide whether to issue them. After the electricity suppliers respond with proposals, the city and county would then decide whether to go forward.

Wilkens said he hopes that the requests for proposals can be issued in four to six weeks.

He said several entities are involved in the effort to develop the requests for proposals and solar farm project. They include AEP Energy, Empower Gas & Electric, Hecate Energy and Third Sun Solar.

According to Wilkens, what’s being discussed is a 3-megawatt, 10-acre solar farm, possibly on the county’s former Route 691 landfill.

“That was our initial idea — try to find county-owned land that would have no other use,” said County Commissioner Chris Chmiel.

According to Wilkens, a 3-megawatt solar farm could produce an amount of electricity equal to about 25 to 30 percent of the electricity used by city and county government. There would not be a direct link from the solar farm to the city and county buildings, rather the electricity from the solar farm would go into the power grid.

Wilkens said he hopes that construction of a solar farm could begin by late summer. Someone — possibly Hecate — would finance construction of the farm, and receive part of proceeds from the purchase of electricity by the city and county.

If all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and the project actually happens, it could, Chmiel said, serve as a model for other communities wanting to do local solar projects.

“What I think is neat (is that) what we do, other people, other communities are watching,” Chmiel said.