Add Bryan, Ohio to the list of municipalities that are harnessing the energy of the sun to supplement their power supplies.

The city will deploy a 24,000-panel solar array in Feb. 2012, which will generate roughly 260 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year — enough to light-up approximately 260 average homes in Bryan. The amount represents 1 percent of the city’s total annual power need.

Stephen Casebere, director of utilities for Bryan Municipal Utilities (BMU), said the city has been looking to diversify its power supply portfolio and had been interested in solar technology for awhile. He explained that BMU has a goal to have 20 percent of the city’s power supply to be from renewable energy sources by 2015, so incorporating solar energy was a good fit for Bryan.

While the solar farm is a small drop in that 20 percent renewable energy target, Casebere was adamant that its impact is better measured by when it provides power, rather than how much.

“One of the things we thought was nice about solar is that it is a product that delivers power during the day when you need it most,” Casebere explained. “When the power is most expensive is during the peak times during the day.”

The project got its start in July, after Rudolph/Libbe Inc., a general contractor, made a presentation on the solar array. According to Casebere, the contractor pitched the idea in conjunction with Key Government Finance, a taxable entity that is eligible for a grant that will cover 30 percent of the solar array’s costs. The financial help made the project possible.

The solar energy system will cost $7.42 million and is being constructed on 12 acres of land owned by Bryan. Rudolph/Libbe is the contractor, while Key Government Finance will pay for and own the array. The financer will lease the array to Bryan for 10 years at a rate of approximately $600,000 per year. Once the term is over, Bryan will have the ability to purchase the array or extend the lease.

Financial Benefits

In addition to the environmental benefits, the solar array should help Bryan’s bottom line too. Casebere said that when you buy power, you also have to purchase the transmission of that power, in order to get it from the buyer to the city’s grid. That won’t be the case with the electricity generated by the array, however, as that power will be dumped directly into Bryan’s system.

The solar array will also enable Bryan to sell more capacity — energy output that can be bought by other providers on an as-needed basis. By having the solar power system, Bryan will have an extra energy source and that it can put on the market to buyers and turn a profit for the city.

Additionally, because investor-owned utilities are required to use a certain amount of renewable energy or purchase renewable energy credits, Bryan will be able to sell their solar renewable energy credits to help offset some of the costs associated with the array.

Casebere said Bryan isn’t the only Ohio city working on using solar power, but he believes they’re among the “first edge” of municipalities to deploy the technology.

“There are other municipals looking at it,” Casemere admitted. “Napoleon, [Ohio] is in the design phase. They’ll be putting something in, in 2012, that’s their plan. We’re one of the first, but we fully expect that there will be more following shortly.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.