More solar power could be seen in the Rochelle area soon

Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said last week that more solar panels and power could be seen in Rochelle and around the area in the next few years at both businesses and homes.

‘If there's solar available, then we should be looking at that’

ROCHELLE – Rochelle City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said last week that more solar panels and power could be seen in Rochelle and around the area in the next few years at both businesses and homes. 

The state’s new energy bill requires the city to have a solar power policy within 120 days of passage and Fiegenschuh said the city plans to start working on that soon. The energy bill is aimed at increasing renewables. Six percent of Rochelle’s current energy comes from renewables.

“I want to get that increased to at least 10 percent or higher so we can have more renewables, specifically solar,” Fiegenschuh said. “Solar is important. I think over the next couple of years you'll see us develop better policies for solar and allow more solar, especially on the home side. But we also have a utility to run and we need to make sure that at a minimum, we're recovering our costs to provide you distribution lines. Because whether you have solar or not, you're still hooked up to our distribution grid."

The fact that the city owns Rochelle Municipal Utilities makes its desire for more solar power complicated. The more solar power that is in RMU’s electric service area means less revenue that comes into the utility. 

“If you put solar on your house, you're still connected to our distribution system and we still have to maintain that distribution system to service you when it's night, when it's cloudy, when it's snowing and when there's not enough sun to provide the solar,” Fiegenschuh said. 

The city is working on a new solar rate for homeowners that install them that would be two pronged. One rate would apply if the owner of the solar panels has battery backup, that way the batteries store the power and it can be used at night. The other rate applies to solar without battery backup where the only time the power is being used is during the day. 

The Rochelle city council has recently approved solar agreements with Kennay Farms Distilling and Chicagoland Skydiving Center. 

The city committed $90,000 over a three-year period for the Kennay Farms Solar Project. That project is not net metered, meaning any additional power produced will go back onto RMU’s grid at no cost. The city expects to recover its investment in power savings within 10 years. 

The council unanimously approved an interconnection agreement with CSC at its Monday meeting that allows CSC to install solar panels on the roof of its facility. The energy produced by the panels will be a reduction in load for both CSC and the Flight Deck. The excess energy produced by the array will be net metered with a credit given to the customer of $0.02195 per kWh without battery storage and $0.05470 per kWh with battery storage. 

If the customer has battery storage, the batteries must be configured to produce energy in frequency response/power quality mode so as to not put undue stress on RMU’s infrastructure. 

Fiegenschuh said he’d eventually like to see even more solar in the area of CSC and the Rochelle Municipal Airport in the future. 

The city has its own solar field near its wastewater treatment plant that was done in 2015 and funded by a grant. Fiegenschuh said the city has looked into expanding that field in the future. 

“If we expand it to its full capacity, it's typically $1 million per megawatt right now for solar,” Fiegenschuh said. “And we can do about two megawatts out there. So it would be about $2 million and that would more than cover the load at the wastewater treatment plant. So we'd actually be pushing power back onto our grid."

As the city builds a new substation on the west side of town, Fiegenschuh said there could be solar panels put there. He said any solar investment would have to be cost effective and the city would have to make sure it’s not putting too much in where it costs it more to produce than to sell it back to its customers. 

“Those are just some areas where we're going to look at doing more solar,” Fiegenschuh said. “If we increase our renewable portfolio, which I'm sure we will, you'll probably see more residential homes having solar. Here's the thing though, it's not fair if you can afford to put solar on your house that somebody who can't afford it has to pay a higher electric rate to subsidize you putting solar on your house. There's a balance there we have to maintain.”

The city could also buy solar power in the future from private developers that put panels outside of town. The city previously approached the developers of a planned solar field near Hillcrest about purchasing power, but there wasn’t any available to buy. 

Fiegenschuh conveyed that the city plans to look at more renewable forms of power than just solar. It wants to increase the power generation that comes from a methane burning plant at the Rochelle Landfill directly onto the city’s grid. He’d like to see more wind turbines, at least one or two in Rochelle. 

“I think it's important,” Fiegenschuh said. "Solar is one component of renewables. We don't want to be too reliant on just solar. There's the landfill, solar, potential wind and who knows what's going to happen in 10 years with technology. I know there's ways to produce power off of the waste at the treatment plant. Again, we talk about solar, it's popular because there's government subsidies for it, but there's a lot of opportunities for other renewables that we should be looking at.”

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