Officials held a ribbon-cutting for the new solar project Thursday morning, but the array has been running for about a month.
The 714 panels in nine rows on a hill will power an estimated 85 percent of the Charles B. Bacon Water Filtration Plant, located on city-owned property in Middlefield, off Route 66.
The facility provides about 25 percent of the city’s clean water and is one of the largest energy users among municipal buildings.
“We recognize that good environmental policy and good economic policy go hand in hand,” said Mayor Daniel Drew. “When you take care of your environment it’s good for your bottom line as a community or as a business. There is a tremendous amount of money that we’re saving here on energy usage.”
The city signed a contract with Greenskies Renewable Energy, a local firm that has installed solar projects around the country. Greenskies also built the solar roof of the R. M. Keating Historical Enterprise Park, formerly known as the Remington Rand building.
Vice President of Construction John Beauton said the solar array allows the water treatment facility to prioritize using the electricity generated on site before purchasing electricity from the utility company.
Greenskies financed the project through federal energy programs, officials said. Construction began last fall.
“We’re adding another source of clean energy to our local facilities,” said state Sen. Len Suzio. “It’s a small bit in the overall plan, but that’s how you get big accomplishments done, one small step at a time.”
The common council approved the contract for the facility more than a year ago to set the price per kilowatt-hour of energy at 8.5 cents, compared with a current electricity rate of about 15 cents.
The 218-kilowatt solar system is a bit smaller than the 1,000-panel solar roof installed at the Keating building on Johnson Street; that array was estimated to save about $189,000 over the life of a 20-year contract.
Unused electricity generated at both sites can be sold to electricity providers for a credit to the city’s energy bill.
Acting Water and Sewer Director Joseph Fazzino said generating power on site will help keep costs down. The savings will be passed on to ratepayers, he said.
“With the solar project, we are able to produce clean, potable water using less electricity from the grid,” Fazzino said. “This is a very important project, especially now with people conserving more and more water, the demand for water is trending downward. Without this project we would eventually need to raise rates, so this will help us stabilize our water rates. Nobody really likes to have their water rates going up.”