Fairfield City Council considers solar power

The Fairfield City Council heard a proposal Monday that promised to save the city energy by installing solar panels on some of its buildings.

Ted Berghoff and David Birchmier, both of Iowa Wind and Solar, told the council their company is willing to pay for an application to build solar arrays on city buildings. What the company needed from the city was documentation of energy usage at city buildings for the past 12 months.

Birchmier said it was critical the company obtain the information before Saturday because that is the application deadline for a program the company hopes to qualify for.

The Iowa Utilities Board accepted a policy change from Alliant Energy to alter regulations on net metering. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid.

For example, if a residential customer has a solar panel array on the home's rooftop, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. The excess energy goes out to the grid and the customer receives a credit to their bill in return.

Birchmier said the change Alliant has requested will lead customers to downsize their solar arrays well below their annual energy use, or incur higher costs and longer payback periods.

The policy change is scheduled to go into effect Saturday, but those who file an application before then can continue to take advantage of the current and more lucrative net metering policy. Customers will have 12 months to install the solar array they apply for.

Iowa Wind and Solar has proposed installing solar panels at the Fairfield Municipal Airport, which Birchmier said would save the city money for 10 years, and after that time, the company would donate the solar array to the city.

Councilor Daryn Hamilton said he was skeptical of having to rush a decision on the solar array, because the city often gets stuck with unknown expenses when it does things at the last minute.

Birchmier tried to assuage his fears by noting that only the application was due Saturday, and that the city had an entire year after that to install solar panels on its buildings, if it chose to do so.

The council voted 5-0 in favor of putting forward the application for solar arrays. Councilor Michael Halley abstained from the vote because he works for Ideal Energy, and Martha Rasmussen did not vote because she was absent.

Mayor Ed Malloy said in an interview today that the city was not committing to install solar panels, nor was it committing to hire Iowa Wind and Solar to build them. The council was merely approving the application for those projects.

Malloy said the buildings the city is most interested in installing solar panels on are the airport, the library and the Roosevelt Community Recreation Center. The library already has a solar array, but the city could install a larger one if it made financial sense to do so.

The roof of the Cambridge SportsPlex was designed so that solar panels could be easily affixed to it. Other buildings that could benefit from solar power are the water plant and wastewater plant.