A contract that will integrate more solar energy into the city’s electric utility was unanimously approved by the Columbia City Council during its regular meeting Monday. The council voted to move forward and authorize the power purchase agreement with Boone Stephens Solar I LLC.
The 20-year contract with Boone Stephens Solar I, a company based in Delaware, will build a 64-megawatt solar field north of the city that will span several hundred acres, said Ryan Williams, assistant director of Columbia Water & Light.
Boone Stephens Solar I is responsible for all the costs of construction, according to the proposed agreement. The field will be operational by the end of 2023.
This field, which Williams said would fuel only Columbia, will have an annual capacity factor of 25%, according to the council memo. It will be connected to the Bolstad substation.
The city will pay $31.65 per megawatt-hour, which comes to about $4.5 million per year initially, according to the council memo. This amount will come out of the annual power supply budget, which is $78 million for the 2020 fiscal year.
Boone Stephens Solar I responded to a Water & Light request for proposals that closed in January, Williams said. The city sent out the request because it feared tax credits for projects like these would end at the time.
“We wanted to make sure there wasn’t an opportunity left on the table by not doing this,” Williams said.
Boone Stephens Solar I was attractive because it offered low prices and would directly connect to the utility, Williams said.
The solar energy from this contract will help Water & Light meet the city’s 2023 renewable energy requirement of 25%, Williams said. It will also help Water & Light meet the recommendations set by the Climate Action and Adaptation Planning Task Force for renewable energy in Columbia.
Currently, the city is at 15% renewable energy, Williams said. Other projects, such as the Truman Solar Project proposed east of town that will provide around 1.5% of solar energy and a third phase of a contract for wind energy from Central Iowa in 2023 that will add 2-3% of wind energy, will help increase the existing number, Williams said.
The approval of the Boone Stephens Solar I project, in addition to other contracts in the works, could create a surplus of energy for the city, Williams said.
Columbia has a small budget to pay for surplus energy, and the city can sell excess energy on the Midcontinent Independent System Operator energy market, he said.
“Instead of being short, which we traditionally have been for a long time — we’ve always been a little short and had to rely on the market to supply our energy needs — we’ll be a little bit long, and we’ll be selling into the market,” he said.
Tawnie Wilson contributed to this report.