Victoria looks for solar energy funding

March 3, 2013 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated March 3, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.

Solar energy may be on its way to some of Victoria's government buildings.

The city's information technology department hopes to be awarded a $250,000 grant from the Texas Comptroller's Energy Conservation Office through the Innovative Energy Demonstration Program.

Information Technology Director James Foote called the grant a great opportunity.

"Anyone who is even considering or has considered solar energy is going to benefit," Foote said.

The grant requires a $50,000 match. Foote said he hopes the city could secure $31,000 in funding through an AEP grant.

According to the comptroller's website, the total budget for the demonstration program grant is $2 million.

Blake Burchard, AEP Texas distributed generation coordinator, said there is one solar project in Victoria: a 27-kilowatt system on the federal courthouse.

"Down in the Valley and a little in Corpus Christi, there's a few schools and cities that have utilized renewable energy," Burchard said. "In the Valley, they're everywhere."

Foote said by being the guinea pig, the city will be able to demonstrate savings and payback.

"It's a step in the right direction," Foote said. "I'm hoping this will encourage other businesses out there to take a look at it, and maybe we can start something in Victoria."

He said the city wants to install a 40-kilowatt system, though the grant allows for up to 60 kilowatts.

The Convention and Visitor's Bureau and Environmental Services Department, at 700 Main Center, is a perfect place to demonstrate to the public, Foote said.

As a whole, the community is "more open to sustainable practices than we used to be," he said.

The grant application is due March 15, and grants will be awarded March 31.

If the city gets funding, it will begin design work April 1, advertise for bids in May, award the contract in June and have the project done by July 31, Foote said.

Councilman Tom Halepaska said renewable energy can be "a double-edged sword."

"It makes people feel good, and the subsidy helps it make money," Halepaska said. "So much of what we have, like ethanol, doesn't make sense when you look at it except that it's subsidized by the taxpayer and the federal government."

He said other costs, including maintenance, must be considered.

"If we only have to pay nickels on the dollar," it probably would be economically and environmentally feasible, Halepaska said. "But we pay state, federal and city taxes. ... If we have to stand flat-footed and pay for it, it probably wouldn't make sense."

Councilwoman Josephine Soliz said generating solar power is a good idea.

"It's something we can set a precedent in," she said. "We can get the ball rolling, and other people can follow."

Burchard said there is a trend across Texas for renewable energy.

In 2009, 65 renewable projects - 41 for wind and 24 solar - connected to AEP's distribution system.

In 2010, the kilowatts produced doubled to 475, he said. However, the swing went to 52 solar projects and 26 wind projects.

In 2011, that trend continued, and 68 solar projects along with 23 wind projects more than doubled the energy captured: 1.433 megawatts.

Last year, 15 wind projects and 65 solar projects came on board, bringing in 11 megawatts of energy, with 7.3 megawatts coming from a wind project in Corpus Christi, Burchard said.

"As long as there's still tax credits and incentives for that type of generation, it'll continue," Burchard said. "The trend I see happening is your solar equipment (costs) will continue to come down. The technology was very expensive to start."

Without the incentives, Burchard said cost per kilowatt-hour is still higher than paying for energy from the grid.

"You still need that incentive money to make it worth paying for," he said.



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