Exclusive: Solar Farm for Ashland Part 1

Ashland Must Go (Partially) Solar by 2020

Progress on the 10×20 Project?

Part 1 of 2

Last week several members of the renewable energy advocacy group, Friends of 10 by 20, met to respond to questions about the 10×20 project with special regard to progress. Participating in the conversation were 10×20 Steering Committee members Andy Kubik, Dave Helmich, Barbara Comnes, Louise Shawkat, Jeff Sharpe and Mary Cody. The interview is presented below with light editing for readability.

Interviewer:    Would you please remind us what ‘10×20’ is?

Friend: 10×20 is a law that was passed by the City Council in August 2016 in response to a petition which 2500 citizens of Ashland signed.  The law requires the City to replace 10% of its current electricity use via new, clean, renewable methods by the year 2020.

Interviewer:    Where does Ashland currently get its electricity? What is the benefit to the environment of this project?

Friend: The idea is to replace just a small fraction, 10%, of our current electricity use with locally produced electricity from clean, renewable sources. Ashland relies on power sold to it by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). This is mostly hydroelectric, clean and renewable. But it arrives at the City contaminated by nearly 50% carbon-generated power because it travels over 300 miles through the Pacific Power transmission system. 10×20 would clean up this small increment of our usage with locally sourced carbon-free electricity while initiating Ashland’s movement toward a more modern and resilient electrical supply.

While it is just a small increment of our usage, it is a substantial undertaking monetarily and technically. But it is a first and important step.

I’ll try to keep this discussion to the actual 10×20 Ordinance execution and save the resilience motivations for another session.

Interviewer:    Who supports 10×20 and why should Ashland citizens be interested in 10×20?

Friend: Well, based on the ease with which we gathered the signatures it is the spirit and the sense of our citizens, as I interpret it, to take part in the ‘Great Transition’–the switch from carbon-based energy sources to renewable, clean sources. The Mayor and City Council are clearly supporting it.

Interviewer:    The infrastructure needed for implementation: How will it be put in place; How will it be paid for; Who will pay?

Friend: Well, of course that is not covered in the ordinance the Council passed. The typical way people pay for electrical investments is through their rates and over time.

Interviewer:    Will the City’s contract with the BPA be impacted by 10×20?

Friend: My understanding is the contract is amendable. It is part of the 10×20 project to work out the BPA contractual issues. My personal take on this would be that if the City can’t make favorable arrangements with BPA, we should not proceed.

Interviewer:    How will 10×20 affect Ashland electric rates?

Friend: Well, until Ashland actually selects and financially commits to a renewable energy system to fulfill its 10×20 commitment, we can only “guesstimate” rate effects. Assuming the City is indeed able to enter into a viable, acceptable project, the first 5-7 years might see a slight rate increase associated with — but only with — the 10% of a resident’s power that 10×20 represents. Note again that 10×20 only affects 10% of Ashland’s power.

That said, a slight and temporary increase might be anywhere from .5 to 2 cents per kw hour for that 10% of your total monthly usage–temporary because we know regular power rates that we now pay will surely increase. Standard rates always increase. The City’s solar project rates however will not increase appreciably; these are long-life solar panels with more or less constant (over their useful lives), warranted output. The fuel for the power plant, sunlight, is free.

The result is that after a few years (say 5 to 7 years), the solar 10% of Ashland power will be less per kWh than the standard City rates, and every resident will pay slightly less than it would without the solar farm. In any case, before any large financial commitments are made, the City Council will be required to approve them. The free market, tempered by the judgment of the City Council, will determine the acceptability of any increase in rates.

For those who like easy math problems, merely add a possible maximum increased solar rate of an additional 1 cents per kWh for 10% of say 1000 kWh for a month’s use, and you will see that the pre-tax increase is $1.00 for that month!

Interviewer:    Will 10×20 address land use concerns?

Friend: I think land use is a very critical concern–especially in the case of a solar farm. I also think the objectives of 10×20 are very much aligned with other conservation and recreation issues. We are talking in this instance of solar on City owned land–the Imperatrice property–about 50 acres (6 % of that site).  I further believe we can find a land use arrangement that will be acceptable to all interested parties. In the case of the Imperatrice property a sparrow species is reportedly locally unique and at least partially occupies the site. Some hiking and equestrian trails have been proposed. There may be rare plant species. There are likely other issues and they absolutely must be taken into account. The site is 850 acres so there should be ample flexibility. An environmental site assessment is on the list of activities for completion prior to issuance of the RFP. We expect it will be carried out in conjunction with possible siting options for the solar array being proposed.

Part 2, Next Week, February 13th