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Regardless of the size of a community, people depend on clean water. The truth is, clean water is taken for granted. Turn a faucet on, any faucet, and we expect—and get—clean water.
Here’s the rub. Clean water isn’t cheap. Processing is costly as is regulatory compliance. And we, the water customers, are extremely cost sensitive. Have you ever met anyone happy to see their water bill go up? I sure haven’t.
This places water treatment facilities in a tough spot. An estimated $180 billion is needed to repair U.S. wastewater and water treatment plants across the country. One of the biggest problems is the high rate energy consumption and the monthly electricity bill that comes with it. To put it into perspective, the water filtering process consumes between 3% to 15% of America’s electrical power every year.
The good news is innovative water processing technology is reducing the amount of energy plants need. Equally important, alternative power source such as solar energy can reduce the overall cost of energy. I’m here to tell you about a small town in southwestern Indiana that is proactively tackling its water treatment energy costs by adopting renewable solar energy.
Near the southernmost tip of Indiana is Huntingburg, Indiana, population 6,500. The town likely got its name in 1837 when it was originally platted and was known as a good place to hunt. (I think buffalo still roamed then?) Huntingburg’s big claim to fame today is that it’s been used for movies, including a 1990’s gem called A League of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks, Madonna and Geena Davis. Remember that one? I do! Loved it!
Two years ago, city officials put out several RFPs for expanding and improving their water treatment plant, which was last upgraded in 1995. This included the addition of high-tech equipment used for process control and laboratory analysis. Even with the upgrades, rate increases were necessary to keep the plant financially sound.
But you can’t keep raising rates, no matter how necessary. So Huntingburg decided to make a move to renewable solar energy, something an increasing number of municipal and privately owned water treatment facilities are doing across the United States. The reason is simple: solar-generated electricity can reduce a plant’s electricity bill by as much as 40%. One municipal water treatment plant reduced its electricity spend on filtering alone, saving about $48,000 a year. If you’re a small utility, that’s a huge number. Savings like this can come in handy stabilizing rates for customers and/or be redirected to other capital improvement projects.
In late 2019, my company, Solential Energy, was awarded the contract to design, build, and manage Huntingburg’s water treatment facility solar array. The project includes 640 photovoltaic panels on land adjacent to the plant that will generate 278.4 kilowatts DC of electricity. This is, by the way, Solential’s third water treatment facility solar project in two years.
When we were awarded the solar contract, Solential went through our pre-construction engineering and design process with city officials and the plant operations team. At the same time, Huntingburg completed comprehensive engineering and geological studies and surveys. Once all the reports were in and the solar field design approved, a date was set for the groundbreaking at the site located east of the existing water treatment plant off State Road 64. Here’s an aerial rendering of the solar field that shows where it is being constructed.
Solential broke ground in fall 2020 and immediately got to work on site preparation. As you can see, there is a polypropylene liner material to block weed growth over which we’ve run a thick layer of crushed stone. We’re now in the process of building the framework for the solar panels themselves. Check this out:
Installation of the solar panels and converters will begin in early spring. We are targeting a completion date in March 2021 so Huntingburg city officials can flip the switch on their new solar energy system and start saving. I know they, businesses, and residents throughout the community that rely on clean, affordable water will be very happy with the lower electricity costs not to mention the “green” environmental benefits of renewable solar energy.
As we continue to make progress on the City of Huntingburg’s water treatment solar system and the others mentioned earlier, I will share more photos in our blog as well as on our LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Please be sure to follow our pages for all of the latest news from positive energy news from Solential. You can also connect with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and via text or phone at 317-627.4530. Cheers!