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Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

A harvest of sunshine: Solar plant producing electricity on former farmland

By William Kincaid

More than 21,000 solar panels are producing electricity at a solar field off Mey. . .

CELINA - A solar electricity plant located on 30 acres of city land off Meyer Road has been producing and delivering power as expected.
"It has been operational since Dec. 22, and it has met all expectations of production," said Mike Dickman, vice president of SolarVision of Westerville, which owns the plant. "It is an intermittent source because when the sun doesn't shine, you don't get it."
Mayor Jeff Hazel said the plant, when operating under ideal conditions, provides a minuscule amount of the city's total power supply - between 2 to 3 percent.
"It's more of a filler because it's renewable," Hazel said. "It's not a base load since it's renewable."
The city was billed $14,465 for 214,305 kilowatt hours of electricity in January and $22,844.86 for 338,442 kilowatt hours of electricity in February.
The city's aggregate monthly electricity bill from American Municipal Power, which manages the city's transactions with multiple energy suppliers, is about $1.1 million, Hazel pointed out.
"It's fully operational, and at its peak production, it would be roughly 5 megawatts of energy," Hazel said.
The plant generates the most power between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day. That window of optimal production will expand to between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the summer, Dickman said.
SolarVision experienced a few weather-related issues when it first took the plant online late last year but it has operated as planned since then, Dickman said.
The company is still waiting for the weather to cooperate to finish ground work.
"I want to make sure that everyone in Celina understands the finished product will be a planted lawn area that needs less work than normal lawns," Dickman said. "We will keep it mowed and looking good."
No one works at the plant. SolarVision is able to monitor electricity production online and observe the facility with cameras. Employees will be on site only for planned maintenance or to correct any problems, he said.
More than 21,000 solar panels transform sunlight to DC power, which is then converted to AC power by an inverter located on the center aisle of the field. After flowing through a series of three transformers, a substation - also built by SolarVision - boosts the power to 69,000 volts before sending it to the city's power grid near Portland Street.
SolarVision secured financing for the $18 million solar power system in August. The deal is a partnership of SolarVision, New Energy Capital Cleantech Infrastructure Fund, Q.CELLS North America, Finance Fund and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The company anticipates generating $4.575 million in federal energy tax credits and $7.554 million in new market tax credits during the first year, Hazel has said.
SolarVision paid the city $1.3 million to set up the plant. The city used some of the funds to purchase the land off Meyer Road, now named the Celina Renewable Energy Center.
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