Geneva would provide a fraction of its power from a solar array built on the east side of the city under a plan being considered by aldermen.
A private solar company put forth the plan after city council members voted earlier this year to walk away from a state grant that would have allowed the city to build its own array to generate power for about 18 homes.
Convergence Energy, a Wisconsin-based solar power developer, wants to pay to build the solar array of about 650 panels on Averill Road by the city's electric substation and peaker plant. Company officials are estimating it would produce roughly 283,000 kilowatt hours of power a year — enough to power 18 to 24 homes. The city would pay the company 13 cents a kilowatt hour — or roughly $850,000 over the course of a 25-year agreement. Geneva residents currently pay 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour for power.
The council has a goal to pursue green power initiatives and this proposal allows the council an alternative to the state grant, Mayor Kevin Burns said. The council rejected the grant because of concerns about the city's capital outlay and the possible Prairie Green location on the city's west side, a spot residents had voted to keep as open space.
This proposal would have an investor pay for the array, which will cost about $650,000, and Convergence would pay to operate and maintain the panels, said Steve Johnson, vice president for business development for Convergence. After 25 years, the company would turn the panels, to be built in an industrial location, over to the city, he said.
"It is my opinion that this will be very palpable and palatable to a lot of folks," Burns said.
Johnson said Geneva would be one of the first, if not the first, Illinois municipality to provide power with a solar array. He suggested the city could offer interested residents the chance to pay the higher rate to be able to say their home is powered by "green" power.
Johnson said he approached the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity about the grant after Geneva turned it down.
"I just about died when I heard you were giving it back," Johnson said. State officials told Johnson they would hold on to it for a few months if Geneva would agree to the plan. The grant would pay for 25 percent of the construction, or about $153,000, he said.
Aldermen Dean Kilburg asked Johnson what the upside for investors would be, saying the agreement almost seemed too good to be true.
Johnson said wealthy investors are motivated by the tax breaks offered for investing in solar panels. Because of those tax breaks, the project needs to move forward quickly so some costs can be incurred before the end of the year, he said.
If the full council approves the measure, construction would begin in the spring as soon as the ground thaws, Johnson said. The panels would likely be ready by June, he said.