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berea solar farm

 

Josh Bills and Steve Boyce in front of PV panels at Berea’s Solar Farm.

Behind the Berea Utilities Municipal headquarters sits a newly installed solar farm generating electricity for the building. The opportunity to install the solar farm began when the city’s proposal for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) was awarded in November 2010. The City of Berea had applied for the $125,000 grant in December 2009, through the Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence.  The EECBG Program was designed to assist cities to develop, promote, implement, and manage energy efficiency and conservation projects. The program’s goals were intended to empower local communities to make strategic investments to meet the nation's long-term goals for energy independence and leadership on climate change. 

 

Efforts to apply for the EECBG were initiated by a group of individuals in Berea who were growing concerned about Berea’s energy future. The city has its own municipal electric utility but buys power from an investor-owned utility that relies heavily on coal-fired power generation. Those involved wanted to see Berea more resilient as a community through greater reliance on energy efficiency and community-based generation of renewable energy.  A few of the concerned individuals who were part of the Berea Utilities Advisory Board (BUAB), a five-member group established in 2008 by the mayor of Berea to discuss and evaluate policy issues, brought their energy strategies to a BUAB meeting. In collaboration with Berea Utilities Director at that time, Donald Blackburn, BUAB identified three specific projects to include in the EECBG proposal. The projects included 1) Retrofits for Municipal Buildings ($45,000), 2) Utility-sponsored Energy Efficiency Programs ($40,000), and 3) installation of the Berea Solar Farm ($40,000).

 

Berea Solar Farm

Berea Solar Farm.

Steve Boyce, a member of BUAB and a key player in the Berea Solar Farm implementation states the idea for the farm came after reading an article about an existing co-op called United Power located in Denver, Colorado. United Power had installed what they described as the first co-op solar farm making solar PV generation available to their customers. It was through United Power’s lead that the Berea Solar Farm concept was designed for Berea Municipal Utilities (BMU). BMU would generate some solar power and pay for the original installation. However, the solar farm would be financed not only with grant money but also by offering Berea residents the chance to lease panels. Electricity generated from each panel feeds power back into the BMU building. Lease-holders would receive a credit on their BMU electric bills for the energy generated each billing cycle. The sixty 235-Watt solar panels would be leased for $750 each, and the lease terms would be for a twenty-five years period.

 

Steve Boyce said, “Neither the solar farm nor the lighting components within the grant proposal would have come about without the active help of MACED’s energy specialist, Josh Bills. The original grant proposal includes his experience and expertise, both of which helped shape the proposal itself.” Boyce explains that once the city was awarded the grant, Josh’s engineering design work was used to create a Request for Proposals (RFP) document to guide solar installers in bidding on the project. “MACED’s Energy Efficient Enterprise team’s assistance helped the project become a reality especially with their input on scope of work and providing designs and costs.”

 

Mike Eirich, Operations Executive of BMU and Director of BMU, Ed Fortner on Berea Solar Farm site.

In November 2011, leasing options for the 60 panels became available to BMU customers and in only four and half days, all 60 panels were leased. The rapid speed of the leasing sale led BMU to approve the installation of 60 more panels thereby turning the Berea Solar Farm into a 120-module 28.2 kW solar array expected to generate approximately 34,000 kWh of electricity each year.  In December 2012, installation began behind the BMU building. Solar installer and owner of Solar Energy Solutions, Matt Partymiller states “The Berea Solar Farm was a great project for Solar Energy Solutions. It created real visibility for the company and our product within the area. We hope to see more utilities participating in the leasing model pioneered by BMU.”

 

On February 13, 2012 Mayor Steve Connelly, City Administrator Randy Stone and the Director of Berea Utilities Administrator Ed Fortner, were called to Kentucky Sustainable Energy Alliance Summit in Frankfort, Kentucky to receive an award recognizing “Leaders in Advancing Clean Energy in Kentucky.”  This award recognized the Berea Solar Farm representatives for being outstanding leaders who have worked to advance clean energy through innovative projects in Kentucky.

 

Steve Boyce is hopeful of what the future holds, “If communities take initiative and get excited about the opportunities that are available to them, they are able to help shape energy issues not only in their communities and state but nationally and internationally.”