There has been an abundance of cold, overcast days since the Schuyler Solar Farm’s December 2018 launch, but that hasn’t prevented the 500-panel system from doing its job.
“I’ve really been pleasantly surprised that it produces kilowatt hours, even on some of these cloudy and cold days where the sun has been so low,” said Jim McGowen, superintendent of the Schuyler Department of Utilities. “It (the hours) hasn’t been humongous, but you would think that there might not be any on those kinds of days.”
Since going live Dec. 20, 2018, the farm has produced in excess of 53,600-kilowatt hours during an approximately 40-day stretch, McGowen said.
“We will know a lot more about the production of (kilowatt-hours) and kilowatt demand by this time next year,” he said, through an email. “This is why we have chosen to operate the system for in-house use (only) during the first year, in effect reducing the cost of operations of the public water system in Schuyler.”
The solar farm, located on a 33-acre plot of land located along east 16th Street, is home to two water wells that the city uses for various town water uses. The wells are now being operated through the solar panel system, he said.
After looking at data compiled between January of this year and January 2020, McGowen said he and other officials will assess the community’s interest in Green Energy and potentially buying into portions of the field.
If the interest is high, it’s possible the farm could expand to 1,000 panels – doubling its current 500-kilowatt output.
“What it will really boil down to in the future is, we have to see what kind of general interest we have and maybe send out a flyer and see what it is,” he said of gauging interest. “We also (have to see) what kind of pricing we can do to have additional (panels), or we may just sell some (panels) based off of what we have.”
The project was completed by South Dakota-based GenPro Energy Solutions for approximately $750,000 budgeted through the Department of Utilities – a budget independent from the city. The rate of return on the department’s investment will take several years, however, McGowen said that the upfront expense is worth it in the long run as it’s serving as a viable supplement to nonrenewable power sources.
Schuyler Mayor Jon Knutson praised McGowen and his team for working on the project, noting he believes it will benefit the community.
"Jim McGowen and the board are always forward thinking ... They do a nice job," he said. "I'm certainly a believer in green energy ... We will see how it works out. If it does like it's supposed to do, we will probably add on to the solar field we have."
McGowen noted that other communities like Fremont, Lincoln, Central City, Aurora and Lexington have all benefited from going Green by constructing community solar farms.
Upkeep of the farm has been relatively simple, he said, noting that one DU employee visits the grounds daily to monitor voltage and meter readings.
“(And) we have five to six guys who all have to know how to handle an outage, what to do, what switches to open and close if there is an outing,” he said.
While this first year of operation will exclusively benefit the Department of Utilities, the ultimate goal certainly is to provide a renewable energy option to the department’s approximately 2,500 customers.
“If we could put up another 500 (panels) that would be great, but we have to know that people are interested in renewable energy, and they have to be part of Schuyler,” he said. “Because that is who we are serving, so they should be the ones that want to buy into it and benefit from it.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at email@example.com.