The city of Hastings is seeking proposals for a 1.5 megawatt solar farm project.
Derek Zeisler, Hastings Utilities director of marketing and energy supply, told members of the Hastings Utility board during their regular meeting Thursday HU will disseminate an RFP on Friday for a solar farm project and is asking for those proposals by Nov. 28.
“It seems to be a good size for a good price point,” he said of the 1.5 megawatt size of the solar project, which is similar to the power generated by the Central Community College-Hastings wind turbine.
He said Fremont has a 1.5 megawatt solar farm, which has about 5,000 panels.
Having cost estimates in hand is important to the feasibility of a community solar project, Zeisler said.
“Obviously, by getting a proposal that’s not committing us to anything, but it is allowing us to answer the biggest question as we go around talking to people of ‘OK, we’ll pay more but how much more?’ ” he said. “Until we have pricing back that we can evaluate we really can’t give them that answer.”
Zeisler also shared results from some of the questions included in a renewable energy survey that is still available at https://www.cityofhastings.org/departments/utilities/electric/renewableenergy.html
There is also a link on the city of Hastings website front page.
The survey opened Sept. 17 and will be available through November, Zeisler said. There were 161 responses as of Tuesday.
More than 80 percent of respondents said they were either interested or very interested in participating in a community-shared solar program. About 70 percent stated it was important to have a solar generation facility in the Hastings area.
Asking how much more money per billing cycle would the respondent be willing to initially pay for electricity to participate in the program, the most popular choice was $10 per month — at about 25 percent. This premium may decrease over time.
Choices ranged from $5 per month to $25 per month, as well as an unwillingness to pay extra.
All of the dollar amounts received more than 10 percent of the vote. The second most popular answer was $20 extra each month at nearly 20 percent, which was slightly more than the percentage of respondents unwilling to pay extra.
“That tells us that, hopefully, they understand this might come at a cost,” Zeisler said of the 80 percent willing to pay a premium.
Solar is a more popular option than wind, but “no preference” received the largest response in a question asking about preference of renewable energy projects.
Answering a question about the most appealing aspects about community-shared solar, the two most popular answers were that it is good for the environment and a reduction in dependence on fossil fuels.
“It seemed like there was a healthy mix of people who had all sorts of different reasons why,” Zeisler said.
The city is pursuing a location west of the Hastings Municipal Airport for a solar power project.
“It’s a visible spot, which I think is important if the community wants to see it in the community. I’m sure they would like to see it,” he said.
Utility board members expressed concern during their meeting about the low number of surveys completed so far at 161. Hastings Utilities has about 13,000 customers.
“What I’m fearful of is we’re seeing a lot of what everybody in here has talked about but we want to see,” board member Shawn Hartmann said. “I just want to make sure we don’t have a bunch of people come out at the 11th hour and oppose this because they didn’t participate.”
Hartmann likes what he’s seeing from the survey results and is excited about the proposals.
So far, the survey has been promoted primarily through social media and at the bottom of customer bills in October.
HU Manager Kevin Johnson and utility board member Bill Hitesman spoke about a conference focused on battery storage they attended recently.
“You can put them just about anywhere you have substations or small electrical facilities like close to a hospital or close to a big industry or close to a combination of businesses,” Johnson said of battery storage facilities.
He said he and Hitesman discussed a potential energy storage partnership between HU and CCC with educational opportunities for CCC. Johnson said HU has received interest expressed from an existing partner on collaboration on energy storage.
“We just wanted you all to know these conversations were not blindly looking at solar and keeping other stuff at bay,” Johnson said. “We’re kind of keeping the other stuff at bay but we’re still looking and talking to people and having meetings.”
Throughout these all of discussions, Johnson said Hastings Utilities is continuing to look at the future.
“We’ve got to start looking at beyond just today and tomorrow,” he said. “We’ve got to look five, 10, 15 years out, 20 years out.”
Also during the meeting, the utility board:
— Voted 3-0 to recommend approval of change order No. 2 to IES Commercial, Inc for Whelan Energy Center No. 1 switchgear replacement electrical equipment installation for a net addition of $222,016.71. Board members Jack Schreiner and Joanne Seberg were absent.
— Unanimously recommended approval a request from SHABRI LLC for $25,000 from Hastings Utilities’ economic development fund to assist Innovative Prosthetics and Orthotics in its move from the Crosier Park Professional Center to the former Village Inn property at 3211 W. 12th St. The move will add eight jobs.
According to the redevelopment plan modification, the entire project is anticipated to cost more than $1.2 million for site acquisition, engineering and architecture, environmental remediation, renovation and construction, equipment and fixtures, inventory and working capital.
Innovative Prosthetics and Orthotics is contributing owner equity and bank financing of $643,025.
— Unanimously recommended approval of Sanitary and Improvement District No. 1 water service agreement to continue the water delivery system once a new pipe infrastructure is installed.