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Farmington considers 1.1 megawatt solar array
Commissioner wonders if customers will pay extra
FARMINGTON — Farmington Public Utility Commissioner Chris Hunter questioned Wednesday how much local residents are willing to pay for solar power.
"I simply ask people, 'Would you like to see your light bill go up because the city of Farmington has solar?'" Hunter said during the commission's Wednesday meeting.
The answer to that question will determine whether Farmington Electric Utility System customers are willing to purchase subscriptions in a proposed community solar array. If the city installs a solar array, and no one subscribes, the power from the array will be distributed to customers throughout the system.
The Public Utility Commission will recommend that the City Council approve installing a 1.1 megawatt solar array off West Murray Drive near the Bluffview Power Plant. The facility would provide a small portion of the city's total energy. Electric utility director Hank Adair said the city's energy demand ranges from 108 megawatts to 200 megawatts depending on the time of year.
The Farmington City Council likely will hear a presentation about the solar project during its 9 a.m. Tuesday work session in the executive conference room at City Hall, 800 N. Municipal Drive. The council likely will vote on the solar project during its regular council meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at City Hall.
If people choose to subscribe, they will pay more than other customers. Adair said Farmington has low rates, and the solar power will be more expensive than other power sources.
The average Farmington electric customer uses about 650 kilowatt hours of electricity in a month and pays about $73. If that same customer subscribed to the community solar project, the customer could pay between $100 and $110 a month for electricity, according to numbers Adair provided the Public Utility Commission.
Hunter, who questioned the economics of building the array, said he voted in favor of the recommendation to the council because he trusts Adair’s judgment.
Adair said he is in favor of adding the solar power because it will offer another choice to customers and because it is consistent with the city's integrated resource plan for the electric utility. The integrated resource plan calls for installing solar by 2032.
"This would give us a good start to look at solar," Adair said.
The array could also help attract businesses, according to City Manager Rob Mayes. Those businesses would be in a position to communicate to their customers and investors that they receive some or all of their electricity from renewable sources. Hunter said he spoke to Warren Unsicker, the CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, who confirmed solar power could be attractive to some businesses.
Farmington resident Mike Eisenfeld said he prefers to shop at Target because the store has installed solar panels.
Because the negotiations are ongoing, Adair told the commission he could not provide specific information about the costs of the project.
Mayes told The Daily Times once the contract to build the solar project is in place, the information will be available for the public. He said the public also will be able to view the bids that the city did not accept.
If no one subscribes to the array, the cost for the city to provide the solar power will be $3.12 more per customer each year. Mayes said that does not necessarily mean customers’ rates will go up. Instead, it means the city electric utility will pay more for power generation.
While the Public Utility Commission is recommending the construction of a 1.1 megawatt solar array, the City Council could approve a smaller array of 500 kilowatts or the council could choose not to pursue the solar project. The 500-kilowatt project would increase the utility’s costs by $1.80 per customer each year.
The city already offers a residential renewable rate for customers to subscribe to if they wish to receive renewable energy. That option has only a handful of subscribers. It allows customers to purchase 100 kilowatt hour blocks of renewable energy.
Adair said there could be more interest in subscribing if the city installs an array.
"People like to feel a sense of ownership, quite frankly, so if I'm going to inves,t it's good to have a place to say, 'That's my solar right there,' and you put it out there where people can see it," he said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.