Iola to study solar power options


Local News

August 14, 2018 - 11:11 AM

Iola will spend $4,000 on a feasibility study to see if the city can afford to add solar power to its electric portfolio.
City Council members voted, 6-2, to fund the study, in partnership with Westar, the state’s largest utility provider.
Scott Shreve, Iola’s energy consultant with EMG, told Council members the study should be complete by the end of the year.
Generating electricity with solar power is intriguing from Iola’s perspective because the city for the past decade has lacked the generating capacity to meet its peak electricity demands.
Through its natural gas and diesel-powered generators, Iola is capable of producing up to 22 megawatts of electricity per day, about 5 or 6 megawatts shy of what’s needed to maintain designation as a “generating” city, Shreve explained.
To meet the added demand, the city purchases generating capacity each year from Chanute and Sabetha.
It’s too soon to tell how much of that demand could eventually be met with solar power, and how much erecting solar panels locally would cost.
Initially, the city likely would get little credit for having solar power, Shreve explained, until if and when the solar panels are online and generating electricity.
There might be opportunity for Iola to generate solar power at lower prices than the city would be paying elsewhere, Shreve continued.
The solar panel construction would be paid up front by Westar, with the city reimbursing Westar  the first six years after construction.
Because those panels are projected to last 30 years, the city then would essentially be paying itself for some of the electric capacity after that six-year repayment process is complete, Shreve said.
Nancy Ford, one of two Council members to vote against the feasibility study, pointed to Iola’s tight budget situation.
“It’s something we need to remind ourselves up with our budget and budget cuts,” she said. “I understand eventually it can be a great thing.”
“It would be short-sighted to not fund this and (potentially) short the city for the next 30 years,” Mayor Jon Wells responded. “That would be devastating to the community to pass on this opportunity over $4,000. It could bring a lot of money into our system and keep prices lower for our consumers.”
“There’s been a big push to go green,” Councilman Gene Myrick agreed. “I’d like to see what this would cost.”
“If (construction costs) are too much, we can just say we can’t afford this and move on,” Wells noted.
Council members also approved an energy management agreement with Westar, which allows the utility giant to purchase generating capacity on the city’s behalf. In years past, Chanute has acted as Iola’s purchasing agent. The cost to go with Westar should be cut in half, Shreve said.

COUNCIL members also:
— Waived rental fees for Family Physicians P.A.  to use the Recreation Community Building at Riverside Park Nov. 5 for a health fair.
— Appointed Jocelyn Tupper and Steven Henderson to the Public Housing Authority Board.
— Approved a request from Iola firefighters to host a boot block along Madison Avenue from 8 a.m. to noon Sept. 1. Proceeds benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.


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