This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Solar energy produced at the Mud Creek and Withla¬coochee Wastewater Treatment Plants solar sites offset the city’s electric bill by approximately $34,935 annually.
Smart energy decision-making in the city of Valdosta includes technology and innovation and is powering up with the South Georgia sun. Valdosta has pursued renewable energy options since the early 2000s. What started out as a general discussion with Hannah Solar about the city’s move into the solar-energy arena eventually led Valdosta leaders to tap into the growing industry as a solution for generating capital assets from land with little or no development potential. Now, Valdosta has nine solar photovoltaic (PV) installations—seven that were installed between November 2016 and December 2017 under the 2015-2016 Georgia Power Advance Solar Initiative (GPASI) and all built at no cost to taxpayers. More than 35 acres of undevelopable land now produce 6.3 megawatts of power, which is enough electricity to power up to 6,300 homes, depending on weather conditions.
Valdosta leaders demonstrated their commitment to environmental and financial responsibility by pursuing these projects, which collectively represent an approximately $9,850,000 capital investment in equipment and construction. Hannah Solar and Valdosta worked together to craft a strategy that would continue to place solar power generated from the newest installations on the electric grid. However, in lieu of approximately $415,000 of lease payments, Hannah Solar constructed two city-owned solar capital assets located at the city’s Mud Creek and Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plants that now produce a combined 477,750 Kilowatt hours, which directly offset the city’s electric bill in those locations by approximately $34,935 annually.
“Valdosta leaders were very forward thinking by taking land adjacent to a wastewater treatment plant, for example, that has no better use and isn’t generating tax revenue for the city, and then turning it into something that generates an income and also energy to offset your highest energy-consuming facilities,” said Allan Ricketts, Hannah Solar’s regional business development manager.
The power generated from solar PV installations, which were completed in 2010 and in 2013, is placed on the electric utility grid in exchange for approximately $650,000 in land lease payments over 30 years. But when Valdosta leaders decided to expand their solar installations in 2016-2017 under the 2015-2016 GPASI, they wanted more than just lease payments for the land; they wanted power.
“In Valdosta, we always focused on how to utilize these solar facilities to power some of our high-energy use facilities,” said former Valdosta City Manager, now GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson. “Rather than be in the lease payment business, we wanted to explore how to build our own solar facilities that would directly provide power to our facilities and offset the electricity expenses for our taxpayers.”
“During the longest sun-exposure days of the year, the city-owned solar PV installation at the Withlacoochee plant is projected to produce more electricity than the plant will use,” said Valdosta Public Information Officer Sementha Mathews. “In these instances, the excess electricity generated can be sold to Colquitt EMC, coincidently, during a time of the year when electric utilities in the Southeast have the most demand for electricity.”
Mathews also noted that the electricity produced at seven of these solar sites goes onto the grid and flows wherever the energy is needed by the electric company.
“Valdosta is a trendsetter in smart energy programs, evident by the number of cities around the state that seek to emulate what Valdosta has done. The commitment of city leaders demonstrates their environmental responsibility of reducing the city’s carbon footprint by offsetting carbon-based energy and embracing the most abundant source of energy on the Earth,” she said.