Green Plant Comes To Celina

CELINA — The city of Celina and SolarVision, LLC, broke ground on the Celina Renewable Energy Center  Thursday, marking the beginning of construction on the sixth and largest solar power installation for SolarVision in Ohio.

SolarVision President Greg Kuss said the center is a unique project.

“This is the only installation like this in the world that I’m aware of,” Kuss said. “This is a historic day. This doesn’t happen every day”

The center, which is set to be built on 60 acres of land at the corner of Ohio 29 and Meyer Road will include a solar field, biogas plant, lake sediment ponds and man-made wetlands. The 5-megawatt project is expected to provide up to 8 percent of the city of Celina’s annual energy.

“It’ll be enough to power about 500 to 600 homes,” Kuss said. “I looked it up on Google last night, and (Celina) has around 4,000 homes in town. This will be a major impact.”

The Celina Renewable Energy Center Solar Project began in October when Kent Bryan, planning and community development director for the city of Celina, got a call from Mike Dickman, vice president of construction for SolarVision, who asked if Bryan was interested in solar power. In December, the city of Celina signed a solar power purchase agreement with SolarVision, in which the city will purchase all the electric output from the plant. The agreement required no money from Celina and allowed SolarVision to own, operate, insure and maintain the solar plant.

“The only expense for the city of Celina was the attorney fees for the communications between (the city) and (SolarVision),” Kuss said. “The rest of the out-of-pocket money came from what we were able to put together to make this happen.”

Government programs and tax credits also helped fund the project.

“The federal government will be taking care of 30 percent of this under the ITC, the Investment Tax Credit,” Kuss said. “This year it’s in the form of a check, which is amazing. The government is also helping under the new market tax credit.”

Bryan said the center has little risk to the city.

“All of this is owned, operated and financed through the private company,” Bryan said. “We have a long-term contract at a pretty good rate. It’s ended up being something that has limited risk to the city and our customer base.”

Kuss noted that while solar power is still expensive, the price is dropping.

“In the last two years, the prices have come down 50 percent,” Kuss said. “By this fall they’re going to drop another 10 percent.”

The project is comprised of two phases. Phase I is a 3-megawatt solar system that will include around 12,000 solar panels on 20 of the 60 acres of land. Phase II includes the construction of an additional 2 megawatts of solar power, including around 8,000 panels on 10 acres.

Another 10 acres of the site will be used for new sediment ponds, created so the city can dredge sediment from Grand Lake St. Marys and recycle it into soil fertilizer. Five acres of the site will be used to build an anaerobic digester. The digester plant will enable the city to process algae and manure from Grand Lake St. Marys into a biogas product that can be used for electric power generation.

“We’re proud to be a part of what this center is going to be with holding ponds and to be able to help with the lake,” Kuss said.

While Bryan noted that the solar panels will not directly be cleaning up Grand Lake St. Marys, they are providing the city with revenue needed to clean the lake.

“This provided funds so that we could acquire the grounds and get the solar in place,” Bryan said. “Then we’ll turn to the other programs, like biogas to process manure and algae from the lake and to have sediment ponds where we can dredge the silt from the bottom of the lake and have revenue sources that would perpetuate those programs for years to come.”

The center is bringing $1.3 million into the local economy. Kuss expects the Celina Renewable Energy Center to help the local economy even further.

“The local industries are already involved and we want to get them more involved as much as possible,” Kuss said. “There will be more people in the Celina area that we will be employing because we want to get as many locals involved as possible.”

SolarVision Executive Vice President Don Saul said the plant could produce approximately 300 jobs for the area.

“This will be the largest privately funded facility in the state of Ohio,” Saul said.

Brain Tschanen, division manager of Vaughn Industries, agreed that the center will bring more than an electrical benefit to Celina.

“What you’re going to see here is not just the construction, you’re going to see the development of a lot of things,” Tschanen said. “At times you could see 50 to 60 people on this site in your community and some of them from the community. It’s going to bring other resources to the city, which is really great and exciting to see.”

Bryan said the benefits extend to education.

“All of the day-to-day power will be recorded and it’ll go onto the Internet website,” Bryan said. “We plan to work with them to have the schools come out here and teaching the school kids about it. And they’ll be able to go on the website and view how much energy is coming out of it at any time during any point of the year.”

SolarVision has more than 12 projects in various stages in Ohio that are planned to be completed in 2011, including a 3-megawatt contract with the city of Wapakoneta and a 0.5-megawatt contract with Vantage Career Center in Van Wert.

Bryan said the community has been receptive of the center.

“There’s been a very positive reaction by the community,” Bryan said. “Most people have said that they like the idea of the solar.”