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Johnson County Secondary Roads Facility may get rooftop solar panels

BY BEN MARKS | SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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The construction of the Johnson County Secondary Roads Facility may include the installation of rooftop solar panels.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors discussed the project at their meeting Thursday with hopes to work toward better sustainability in Johnson County. 

In March 2013, a fire destroyed the previous the facility — a county building that houses county trucks, snowplows, and road pavers, among other things.

Now, the county is in the process of building a new, $3.6 million facility and looking for ways to make it more energy efficient.

“If this solar project was accepted, I think that this would just be a feather in the cap of Johnson County and prove our commitment to sustainability and the board’s strategic plan,” Johnson County assistant planner Josh Busard said.

The supervisors will meet to continue to discuss the issue at the next informal meeting on Sept. 24.

The solar panels will cover the building’s roof and will supply the facility’s power need of 170,000 kilowatt-hours annually.

Although the proposal required the system meet at least 50 percent of the facility’s energy needs, Busard said all but one of the systems have the potential to cover 100 percent or more.

He said if the cells end up producing more power than the building needs, the energy will go to power the other buildings on the facility’s campus.

Out of the original five proposals the supervisors was given, two have been eliminated for not meeting the their standards.

“One had the highest cost, plus it was out of state, and the other that was eliminated, they did not guarantee the use of high quality U.S. products,” said Becky Soglin, a county sustainability assistant.

The other three proposals — from Atwood Electric, Moxie Solar, and Eagle Point Services, range in price from $320,00 to $375,000.

The county will not purchase the array directly; instead, it plans on utilizing a power purchase agreement. Much like a car payment plan, under the purchasing agreement, the county would make monthly payments to the solar-cell vendor for an agreed upon period of time, until the system is paid off.

Additional benefits of this would be that for the duration of the agreement, the solar cells would be under warranty and the vendor would be responsible for any upkeep.

The power purchase agreement would also lock in the county’s energy rates at a low 7.125 cents per kilowatt-hour, despite any future price fluctuations.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said she supports the purchase through a purchase agreement because it would allow the county to access renewable-energy tax incentives, benefits that governments are not allowed access to, but private companies are.

With a 10-year purchasing agreement, Johnson County could potentially see an estimated total savings of morethan $300,000.

The county already has three Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified buildings, and the solar cells are part of a larger plan to perhaps obtain a fourth LEED certification for the facility.

“Dollars and cents, that’s important, to be good stewards of taxpayer money,” Busard said. “But also there’s all the other intrinsic values associated with setting a good example. Being good stewards of the environment of Johnson County, reducing greenhouse gases, all those other benefits [are] really hard to set a value to, but there is definitely a value.”


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