Council takes closer look at solar
Iola City Council members will have several decisions to make regarding its energy portfolio in the near future.
Council members heard from Scott Shreve, the city’s energy consultant, about a proposed solar power agreement with Westar; the chance to buy used diesel generators; and the city’s hydro-electric options.
The proposed solar project generated the most discussion.
On the table is an offer from Westar to construct a series of solar panels in Iola, capable of generating up to 4½ megawatts of electricity per hour.
Westar would pay for construction on the city’s behalf, taking advantage of state and federal tax breaks in the process. Then, after seven years, the city would pay Westar about $3.7 million to assume ownership of the facility — “pennies on the dollar,” Shreve said.
The issue, Councilman Aaron Franklin said, would be whether the costs to buy the panels would be made up in other savings. “I want to see a cost-benefit analysis,” he said.
There are several factors at play, centering on whether Iola can generate enough electricity on its own to qualify for lower rates from outside sources.
Currently, the city pays between $75,000 and $85,000 annually to cover generation capacity shorts. Iola’s natural gas and diesel generators can produce a combined 22.5 megawatts per hour, less than the city’s peak demand threshold of 25 megawatts.
That is important, because the Southwest Power Pool, of which Iola is a member, dictates municipalities must be able to meet their own peak demand to be considered “generating” cities, and eligible for less expensive wholesale energy costs.
On top of the solar option, the city also has been setting aside electric reserves over the past several years to buy a series of used generators, at a cost of about $1.5 million.
The generators alone would cover that capacity shortfall, Councilman Ron Ballard noted. So why worry about adding solar power to Iola’s portfolio, particularly if it savings don’t cover costs?
The answer lies in the difference between energy capacity and energy production, Shreve responded.
Ideally, the diesel generators will set idle, he said, because of the costs associated with producing electricity.
The solar panels would produce electricity on every day the sun shined, allowing the city to (a) meet its capacity needs, or (b) sell electricity back to the marketplace.
While the solar panels could generate up to 4.5 megawatts, Iola likely would be given credit only for about 2.7 megawatts from the Southwest Power Pool.
“We really need both pieces, the best of both worlds,” Shreve said.
THE THIRD issue in front of the Council is an option to use hydroelectric power.
Dubbed “hydro-allocation,” Iola could enter an agreement with the Southwest Power Association to either purchase water-powered electricity, or allow another city to do so under Iola’s contract at no cost to the city.
The plan, Mayor Jon Wells explained, is much like a landowner’s water rights to a river flowing through his property.
Much like other fuels, hydroelectric electricity prices can vary widely, Shreve said. In dry weather, prices can skyrocket to $80 per kilowatt hour. If the weather is wet, and rivers are raging, the price can be as low as $30 per kwh.
Council members agreed to look into the matter further.
Shreve said he would return in the near future with contracts for all three for the Council to consider.
ATTENDING an Iola High School baseball or softball game at Iola’s Riverside Park will get a bit more expensive for spectators.
Council members approved a request from USD 257 to begin collecting donations for admission to the home games. A $5 “suggested” donation for each carload of spectators will be accepted.
Council members approved the request, with the stipulation that school officials cannot bar somebody from entering if they do not pay.
The proceeds would go to help pay umpires for their services, Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock explained.
CEDARBROOK Golf Course’s recent closure has led to a request for Iola to increase its speed limit along Miller Road and North Cottonwood Street.
The golf course closed its doors April 1, which means golfers no longer have a reason to use those streets to travel to Cedarbrook, Councilman Gene Myrick noted.
That’s important, because in order to allow carts along those streets, Iola was required in 2016 to drop the speed limit on both from 35 mph to 30 mph.
“I know everyone wants it faster,” Wells said, “but I’d like to at least wait until after the summer, in case somebody else were to want to reopen the golf course.”
IN OTHER business, Council members accepted a bid from Utility Maintenance Contractors to repaint the Iola Municipal Pool at a cost of $53,740, the lower of two.
The Council also agreed to allow a handful of city vehicles — police unit, fire truck, ambulance, street sweeper, trash truck and bucket truck — as part of a unique fundraiser sponsored by the Iola CITY/PRIDE Committee. The organization, which has sponsored a number of civic projects through the years, is going to auction off rides for youngsters on the last day of school, with winning bidders hitching a ride on unusual vehicles.
The auction runs April 19-30 on Facebook, noted Tiffany Reed, CITF/PRIDE chapter president.