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City almost ready to access new solar power source

Solar panels leased from an Omaha, Neb.-based renewable energy company have arrived in Columbia and, once installed, could help the city exceed its renewable energy goal for the coming year. But city officials still are unsure when the panels will be operational.

At the June 6 Columbia City Council meeting, Water and Light Department Director Tad Johnsen said the panels, which were leased from the Free Power Co., likely would be installed on the roof of the Columbia Terminal Railroad transload facility in north Columbia and at city property at Bernadette Drive and Tiger Lane, where solar panels are already installed.

Dan Stokes, the electric services superintendent for Water and Light, said installation of the solar panels at the transload facility has been delayed because city crews have encountered structural obstacles. Free Power has agreed to install the panels, and Water and Light plans to use $50,000 from its capital improvement project budget for metering costs.

Tonight, at the council’s regular meeting, an agreement between Water and Light and the city’s Public Works Department to install panels at Public Works sites will be presented.

Through a lease agreement with Free Power, the city will pay $54 per megawatt hour for the solar energy. The city plans to pay the company using existing revenue that would have gone to pay for other power sources. Free Power has agreed to provide the city with 6,000 megawatt hours per year by Sept. 30 and to double that by Sept. 30, 2012.

After the city is drawing 12,000 megawatt hours from the panels, close to 7 percent of the city’s power will come from renewables, Stokes said.