ECB Publishing, Inc.
The City of Monticello is in pursuit of a $2.5 million project that aims to significantly reduce its carbon footprint and bring down its energy costs in the process.
The project – consisting of three phases whose costs the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is largely funding via grants – entails the installation of a photovoltaic (PV) solar array system at the city's wastewater treatment plant to power the facility's operation.
When completed, it's estimated that the total price tag for the project will be $2,572,800, of which the FDEP will fund 80 percent and the city's portion will be 20 percent, or an estimated $523,600, to be paid via low-interest loans over a 20-year period.
The project's three phases are designated as planning, engineering design and construction. The planning or first phase has already been completed at a cost of $30,000.
On Tuesday evening, Jan. 7, the Monticello City Council approved a resolution requesting that the FDEP fund the engineering design phase, which is estimated will cost $191,000, of which the city will be responsible for $38,400.
Phase one, which the Jacksonville-based engineering firm of Mittauer & Associates completed, entailed the preparation of a lengthy report establishing the basis for the implementation of the PV solar system. The findings of the report were the focus of the presentation that Joe Mittauer, president of Mittauer & Associates, and Greg Lang, the firm's vice president of community development, made to the council last week in preparation for the engineering design funding.
Mittauer told city officials that they faced three options at this juncture: they could do nothing and continue with the existing operation as it is; they could implement a fixed tilt PV solar array; or they could opt for the more expensive and complex articulating two-axis array, which would essentially track the sun's movement across the sky for maximum energy creation and efficiency.
It was the consultants' recommendation – based on the city's size and the plant's power usage history – that the fixed tilt array was the best choice. Which array, they said, would not only be less costly than the two-axis array, but it would well serve the city's energy needs.
“It is recommended that the fixed tilt array be implemented based on capital cost, lower operation and maintenance cost and the simplicity of the system,” Mittauer said. “The present worth cost of the fixed tilt array is nearly $120,000 less than the two-axis array.”
The choice of the latter option, Mittauer said, would produce the equivalent of 500 kW of direct current electricity and result in an annual saving of about $28,000 to the city. Plus, he added, it would have the reserve capacity to accommodate future growth.
“More importantly,” Mittauer said, “it will prevent the city's wastewater utility from exposure to future rate increases and possible carbon taxes.”
Mittauer shared figures showing that the city's average power costs between 2018 and 2019 had increased 11.6 percent, due both to increased energy consumption and a rate increase. A trend that he said was likely to continue, especially if the state implemented a carbon tax, as legislators often talked of doing.
“If a carbon tax comes, you can see a 20-percent rise in cost,” Mittauer said.
His firm's analysis, he said, was based on the city having an average power bill of $5,031 monthly, which amounted to $60,370 annually. The solar array, he said, should produce an annual net saving of $25,080 for the city, once the loan payments and operation and maintenance costs were deducted from the $60,370 that the city would not be paying Duke Energy for electricity.
“The annual debt service and operation and maintenance of the system will be fully offset by the savings in power cost,” Mittauer said, adding that, factoring in the grant amount, the system would pay for itself in nine years.
Solar arrays, he said, typically had a useful life of 40 years, and most quality manufacturers provided a 25-year warranty that guaranteed a minimum panel output of 85 percent of its initial rating after 25 years.
“For purpose of this evaluation, we will assume that the array has a 50-percent salvage value after 20 years,” Mittauer said.
Not only were the panels durable, he added, but they were able to withstand winds of up to 150 mph, should a hurricane strike the area.
Mittauer said the next step in the process was to submit the completed facilities plan for the implementation of the PV solar array to the FDEP and request the phase-two engineering design funding, the release of which rested entirely with the agency.
“They fund this program quarterly,” Lang explained. “So depending how much money they have left in this quarter, they could say let's fund it right now or in May when the next quarter starts. We don't expect to wait past May for the engineering design funding, however.”
Added Mittauer, “The funding is per the funding agency. They tell what to do. But for an 80-percent grant, you do what they ask.”
After completion of the engineering design, the two said, would come the construction phase, which they said they expected would occur in 2021.
Funding solar projects, Mittauer said, was something new that the FDEP was doing in an effort to help small communities become more efficient and self-sustaining.
Speaking on behalf of the council, Councilman Troy Avera praised the project.
“I think this is an exciting project for us,” Avera said. “We're looking to drop our power bill to zero forever. Plus, we're getting a grant that pays for 80 percent of the cost and the other 20 percent we're getting as a low-interest loan over a period of 20 years for less than a quarter interest rate. You can't beat that.”