Athens officials eye solar array at Cedar Creek wastewater plant

Collecting solar energy to generate electricity at Athens-Clarke’s Cedar Creek wastewater treatment plant could offset 43 percent of the energy used by the plant, according to an analysis by the Athens-Clarke utilities department.

 

The department is asking the Athens-Clarke County Commission to approve a low bid of a little under $1 million for the project.

New federal tariffs on imported solar energy equipment could change that analysis, however.

One trade association, the Solar Energy Industries Association, says the 30 percent tariffs on imported solar cells and panels announced last week will costs thousands of jobs and delay or cancel billions of dollars in solar investments.

It’s possible the proposed Cedar Creek project will have to be downsized as a result of the tariff, said Andrew Saunders, Athens-Clarke County’s sustainability coordinator.

The county’s three wastewater treatment plants, which run 24 hours a day all year long, are huge consumers of electricity, as is the facility that treats and distributes the purified water that comes from area taps.

Together, those four facilities use three times as much electricity as all other Athens-Clarke facilities combined, according to the utilities department analysis.

The proposed facility would be 4 to 5 acres in size, but would not require land clearing or cutting down trees.

That’s because the tracking solar arrays can be installed on land that’s already largely covered in concrete and asphalt, and is serving no useful purpose, Saunders explained.

Workers demolished the old Cedar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in 2011 as a new plant was built and came online nearby. The solar array will be installed on top of the demolished plant, according to the plan.

The Cedar Creek wastewater plant uses about 2.7 gigawatts of electricity annually. The proposed solar array would produce about 1.2 gigawatts in its first year.

The array would give Athens-Clarke County’s government 10 times its current solar capability. Not long ago, its biggest venture into solar power was a small installation in a commuter parking lot.

But last fall, workers installed a fixed array on the roof of a garage and barn area at Athens-Clarke County’s Streets and Drainage Division headquarters on Spring Valley Road.

That 53-watt array is projected to break even after 10 years, but is warranted for 25 years, which should give the county a very good return on its investment, Saunders expects.

The much larger proposed array at the Cedar Creek wastewater treatment plant would be capable of tracking the sun east to west, changing its angle as the sun moves through the sky, and should also give a good return to taxpayers, he said.

The Athens-Clarke County Library is also set to have its own solar array sometime later this year after winning a grant to pay for it.

 

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