Water plant solar

Athens’ water treatment plant on West State Street is one of the city’s biggest electricity users. It got new solar panels during a recent renovation. Photo by Conor Morris

As Athens City Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday declaring a “climate emergency” and detailing the city’s steps to combat that issue, the city administration is planning a new solar-panel array that could become the largest one in the city and possibly the county.

The city administration on Monday shared a request for qualifications (RFQ) document seeking a design-construction firm to create a large-scale solar array that will power the city’s wastewater treatment plant, the Athens Community Center, the city pool and the city’s laboratory, all located in the same general area off East State Street in Athens.

Andy Stone, city service-safety director, explained in an interview Monday that the estimated $4 million, 2.5-megawatt solar panel project will create the largest solar array in the city of Athens and will power the city’s two biggest energy users: The wastewater treatment plant and the Community Center.

The Community Center already has solar panels – which the city is leasing to own – located above the parking area to the east of that building. They power about 25 percent of the center’s operations, Stone said.

Stone said he hopes the city will get under contract with a company to begin construction on the solar array sometime later this year, ideally as soon as possible so that the city can take advantage of federal tax breaks on solar projects. In order to take advantage of those tax breaks, however, the city must hire an “equity partner” to be a part of the design-build project – basically, a private company that can utilize the tax credits.

“The city can’t apply for tax-credit payments without a private entity,” Stone explained. “Only a private entity that pays income tax can do that. This design-build firm would have this equity partner, and we would subsequently buy it from them. After they’ve taken advantage of those tax credits, the savings would be passed onto the city.”

The city will take out a loan to pay for the project, Stone said, but the city hopes to use funds from the carbon fee for city electrical users that city voters approved in May 2018 to help pay debt service on the loan.

Luke Sulfridge, executive director of the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC), said Tuesday that collection on the new carbon fee won’t begin until June 2020. Hearings are planned ahead of that date to determine what residents want the fee to be spent on in the coming years, he said. That carbon fee will cost the average household an additional $1.60 to $1.80 per month, The NEWS previously reported.


IN OTHER NEWS, Athens City Council approved a non-binding resolution Monday that declares a global “climate emergency” and encourages the city, the county, and local residents and organizations to fight climate change through individual and collective actions.

Council member Chris Fahl, who introduced the resolution Monday, said during the meeting that the resolution is meant to be a “clarion call to everybody out there” to take action to reduce their carbon footprint and work on sustainability measures. The city also plans to ramp up its sustainability efforts, Fahl said.

“Athens hereby commits to a citywide mobilization effort to reverse global warming and the ecological crisis, which, with appropriate financial and regulatory assistance from state and federal authorities, ends citywide greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible and no later than 2030, and immediately initiates an effort to safely draw down carbon from the atmosphere, ensuring a just transition for residents, and accelerating adaptation and resilience strategies in preparation for intensifying local climate impacts,” the resolution reads. 

Mayor Steve Patterson noted that the city is already a leader in sustainability efforts in southeast Ohio, mentioning the carbon fee discussed earlier in this story. 

“There’s going to be some really exciting things going on in ways the city can reduce its carbon footprint through that carbon fee,” Patterson said.

He added that Athens just added a fifth electrical vehicle to its fleet, and a new “fast-charge” EV station at the city pool (with a ribbon cutting for that station set for early March).

The resolution calls on Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and legislative leaders to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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