City expected to reject solar farm proposals

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The Denton City Council is poised tonight to reject proposals for a solar farm, but city power officials say they will try again.

Ten solar companies from around the country responded to a request for proposals, or RFP, Denton issued about a year ago. However, in issuing the request, the city reserved the right to reject all the proposals. The city used the process, in part, as a price-discovering tool, since the cost of solar panels is decreasing, according to Denton Municipal Electric spokesman Brian Daskam.

“There’s lots of encouraging information out there,” Daskam said. “But we didn’t want to be stuck buying something for the city if it wasn’t good for the citizens of Denton.”

According to city documents, comments and questions from potential vendors hinted at some of the challenges in the city’s RFP, including a project size of 20 megawatts and other minimum requirements that included locating a manufacturing facility in Denton.

The city’s RFP also asked for demonstration projects, with interactive learning components, to provide educational opportunities for either the Denton school district or the universities.

At least one respondent told the city that the RFP for new manufacturing included conditions that would make it hard to be profitable, according to city documents. The city asked that the manufacturing facility employ 50 people either in a 100,000-square-foot building or have minimum annual revenues of $25 million.

The solar farm itself wouldn’t have to be inside Denton Municipal Electric’s service area, documents showed, but could be located up to 60 miles away.

At least one vendor questioned the viability of projects of more than 10 megawatts, even though the market is moving quickly to accommodate solar utilities.

Larger solar farms have come online for power customers in San Antonio and Austin in the past few years.

But environmental and consumer advocates say it will take more than initiatives than those in Austin, San Antonio and possibly Denton to make solar power a viable option in Texas.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas has yet to write rules, as it did for wind power and as required by the Texas Legislature, to bring solar power into the grid.

Texans pay $4,500 per megawatt hour in electric emergencies, compared to about $30 per megawatt hour during normal conditions.

With the exception of statewide blackouts in 2011, most of those electric emergencies have occurred on summer’s hottest, sunniest days.

It is unclear how much that price difference affects any individual ratepayer’s bill, since some ratepayers have fixed price contracts and some Texas utilities remain exempt from deregulation, including Denton Municipal Electric and CoServ customers locally.

The city staff has recommended that this first round of proposals be rejected and the matter has been scheduled for the council’s consent agenda Tuesday night.

However, Daskam said the staff plans to take the lessons they learned from the process and make some changes before going out for bids again, if that is the direction they get from the City Council.

“We’ll try to get something that makes sense for Denton,” Daskam said.

Denton Municipal Electric gets about 40 percent of its electricity from wind.

The city also powers another 1,600 homes each year with electricity generated from gas captured at the landfill and is expected to triple that capacity in the coming years.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her email address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com .

 


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