Lower utility bills may take thinking outside the electrical box

MINDEN, La. — Looking to help Minden residents with lower utility bills may take thinking outside the box.

That’s why the City of Minden is working toward building a solar farm on approximately 13 acres behind the power plant on Yale Street across from Babb Park.

“We have a lot of acreage out there, and we have already contracted the removal of trees,” said Mayor Terry Gardner. “The cooling towers were there from the old plant, so they’ve been removed … but first of all, we had to remove the asbestos.”

Once that was accomplished, Gardner said submerged water vats were demolished and left underground.

“We have a local contractor hauling dirt to fill in those,” Gardner said. “We’ve moved a water line that was there, too.”

The city is currently in discussion with Ally Energy Solutions and Capstone Energy concerning the panels.

Gardner said $1.2 million are available for construction, but the city would like to see that money replaced with grant funds.

“Capstone is a company that helps find grants,” said Tyler Wallace, assistant public works director for the city. “We are leaning toward purchasing the panels, rather than leasing. We would rather own it.”

Using the sun, solar panels generate electricity which is then “metered” to the city’s power plant.

“It will be tied to us; we’re on this side of the meter,” said Russell Poole, head of Minden’s power plant. “Unless SWEPCO puts a meter on it, but they haven’t mentioned it.”

The City of Minden has been in an electrical agreement with AEP SWEPCO for between two and three decades. There is still time left on the contract.

“Within our contract, we are allowed to do a megawatt behind the meter,” Gardner said. “Which will roughly save $15 to $25 per household. It depends on the customer’s usage how much it will bring down their light bill.”

As is expected, the number of sun hours will also play a key role.

“If it’s shady all the time, you’re not going to get the megawatt,” Gardner said. “But somedays, you may get more than that.”

“Solar farms are very low maintenance,” Wallace added. “Ruston has a similar one.”

Gardner said the project was approved through the budget; however, the council will have to approve the construction company due to the cost.

“Last year it was in the budget to do the remediation and the land,” Wallace said. “The next budget year, we will actually do the farm.”