City looks at solar power options

Officials have group analyze possibility of cost-saving measure

Could Seymour be the next Hoosier community to go solar?

The possibility is not as far-fetched as it may sound, Mayor Craig Luedeman said.

Seymour officials are looking into the feasibility of solar power as a cost-saving measure and to make the city more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

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Luedeman and Councilman Matt Nicholson have met with representatives from Johnson-Melloh Solutions in Indianapolis to begin discussing the cost and logistics of using solar energy to power city buildings and street lights. There’s also the potential for local industries to get involved.

“One of the things we’re going to look at possibly is going to solar on some of our buildings to help offset the cost of our electric bills,” Luedeman said.

Solar power also could help the city reduce and potentially eliminate the more than $260,000 per year spent to provide electricity to street lights and save a lot of energy costs, up to $20,000 a month, at the wastewater treatment plant and lift stations, he said.

Luedeman has agreed to allow Johnson-Melloh Solutions analyze the city’s electric bills to see exactly how much the city could save initially and in the future and how much the project would cost.

Johnson-Melloh Solutions is the same company that is working to transition North Vernon to become the first city government in Indiana to be completely powered by solar energy. That project is costing around $5.4 million and was the result of the Jennings County Public Library converting to solar energy in 2014.

Estimates for the North Vernon project put the savings at nearly $4 million over the next two decades.

“They thought we could have a lot more savings than North Vernon had,” Luedeman said.

There’s the potential the savings could be enough to help pay for the $2 million in renovations needed at city hall, he said.

Nicholson said he doesn’t know if Seymour can pull off the project as quickly as North Vernon, which has taken about a year to complete. But he believes the future gains would be worth it to the city and taxpayers.

“In 18 or 18½ years, we would no longer pay an electric bill,” he said. “And we can do all this without spending any more than what our current electric bills are, so it funds itself, and we don’t have to issue a bond.”

There will be some cost on the front end of the project, which Nicholson said the council will have to evaluate before making any decisions, but he supports going solar as an investment in Seymour’s future.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” he said. “Here we are planting a tree so the future generations have the benefit of several hundred thousand dollars (in savings) a year. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but down the road, we suddenly have more money for roads and everything else.”

Johnson-Melloh Solutions also installed the solar energy farm at the Indianapolis airport.

Freeman Municipal Airport in Freeman Field could be a location for solar technology that would help power the Seymour airport and Department of Public Works and also allow industries such as Valeo, Lannett, RR Donnelley, the Jay C Food Stores warehouse and others to tap into the renewable energy source.

“They were very interested in our airport with all the potential users in Freeman Field,” Luedeman said.

Nicholson said for those companies interested in going “green,” a solar initiative would give them the ability to lease space for solar panels to power their buildings.

The panels are under warranty for 25 years but can remain operable for twice as long.

“NASA has some of the first ones done that have been in use for almost 50 years now,” Nicholson said.

Switching to solar power is not only smart economically but makes good environmental sense, too, Nicholson said.

“At some point, theoretically, we’re going to run out of coal,” he said. “Going to solar power is doable. If we can do it, it’s a great thing.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.