Solar project

The solar array near Gatesville’s wastewater treatment plant will follow the sun, like these panels.

Breaking ground on a new project is exciting for a city’s leadership, but it’s even more so when the project looks toward the future of sustainable energy.

City and project leaders and a Texas Department of Agriculture representative gathered earlier this month, shovels in hand, to mark the official beginning of construction of a solar array that will provide more than 341,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually to the city.

Ten dual-axis trackers with 420 solar panels will follow the sun, harnessing its endless energy to power the Leon Wastewater Treatment plant, saving the city thousands of dollars in electrical costs.

“Barring any significant weather delays, we estimate work will be completed by March 7, 2019,” said Gatesville City Manager Bill Parry last week.

Why solar?

“Solar is a proven and available technology,” Parry said.

Gatesville’s location near North Fort Hood’s landing strips prevented using wind turbines as a renewable energy source.

Parry has dealt with the technology before as part of the solar initiative at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, where he saw how solar structures were used in the desert southwest to create shaded areas for parking.

“When the grant opportunity was announced, I was convinced it was worth pursuing,” he said.

In November 2016, Gatesville was awarded a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Community Enhancement Fund.

The city, which broke ground on the project Nov. 1, will contribute $50,000, or 10 percent of the grant award, to the project.

It should be worth every penny.

With electricity savings of more than $15,000 annually, it will take a little over three years to see the return on investment, Parry said.

The system has a life of at least 20 years.

“Therefore, the net savings for the city in only electricity costs, which aren’t likely to go down, over the life of the project should exceed $300,000,” he said.

The project is about saving a few dollars and solving a few problems.

Parry said since becoming city manager in 2015, he has noted two issues at the Leon Wastewater Treatment Plant that needed solutions.

“The sewer sludge holding area was exposed to the elements, so when it rained the sludge would turn anaerobic, creating an unfavorable odor,” he said.

Secondly, the 24/7 operation uses a lot of electricity.

“I was convinced that solving those problems would result in a significant cost savings to the city,” he said.

New grant opportunity

The Community Enhancement Fund itself is relatively new, first announced in July 2016. Four cities submitted applications to the Texas Department of Agriculture explaining their plans to use renewable energy as part of water and wastewater treatment facilities.

“(Gatesville) was the top-scoring application of the four submitted in the alternative energy category,” Parry said.

The objective of the Community Enhancement Fund was to “address a range of projects that did not currently exist in the community — one of which was renewable energy as part of a public facility, specifically water and waste water treatment facilities,” he said.

Although electricity will only be routed to the wastewater treatment plant, the project affects everyday residents mainly by helping to keep the city’s sewer rate below the median for the region, he said.

Folks also should notice less of an odor.

“It’s a solid step forward to not being afraid to deploy new technology when it increases the effectiveness and efficiency of operating the city,” Parry said.

Solar CenTex of Harker Heights will construct the project while KSA Engineering, based in Longview, is the project engineer.

Emily Hilley-Sierzchula is reporter for the Killeen Daily Herald. Reach her at emilys@kdhnews.com

Herald reporter

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