Front Royal to add solar power farm

FRONT ROYAL – The town that boasts the lowest electricity rates in the state plans to add solar power to its portfolio.

Town Council this week adopted on a first reading an ordinance to approve and execute a power-sales contract with American Municipal Power Inc. for the Solar Phase II project as well as an interconnection agreement. With the project, the town will add solar to its growing portfolio of energy sources.

Plans call for AMP to build a solar farm on a 15-acre site owned by the town near the wastewater treatment plant. Town Director of Energy Services Joseph Waltz said Thursday he expects engineering and design on the project to begin in September. The town will lease the property to AMP to build and operate the 2.5-megawatt, electrical-generation facility. The goal is to complete the project and begin operations in August 2016, Waltz said.

“It’s gonna be another slice to our portfolio,” Waltz said. “It’s about 6 percent of our energy needs. It’s still sticking to our philosophy of diversifying our risk and trying to maintain the lowest rate as possible.”

The town purchases power from AMP, a nonprofit organization that invests in electrical-generation projects and sells the energy to its participating members. Front Royal, through its Department of Energy Services, has bought into many projects through AMP, including coal- and gas-fired plants as well as hydroelectric generation.

AMP offered this solar project to its members.

“The benefit on this project will be that the town will actually be able to host a solar facility in the corporate limits,” Waltz said. “So that is real attractive for the town for the simple fact we can get cost savings on our transmission and congestion because the solar field will be behind the meters.”

Front Royal is involved in natural gas and coal-fired power plants, three hydroelectric projects along the Ohio River and a purchase-power agreement in a wind power facility.

Virginia does not require the town to draw electricity from renewable sources but adding solar power to its portfolio puts Front Royal ahead of the curve, Waltz said.

“I’m really excited about the town actually having some generating facilities here in the corporate limits,” Waltz said.

No one spoke during the public hearing held on the matter. Council must hold a second reading on the ordinance before it can take effect. The motion adopted by council this week also calls for the approval of a solar-project lease agreement for a term of five years, renewable for additional five-year terms.

The motion also states that the construction of the solar farm structures on the town’s property by American Municipal Power would not adhere to the Virginia Public Procurement Act since competitive, sealed bidding and competitive negotiation are not fiscally advantageous to the public because Front Royal buys electric utility services through AMP, an association formed and maintained for the purpose of promoting the interest and welfare of, and developing close relationships with similar, public bodies.

American Municipal Power is based in Ohio that provides electricity to 130 members. The organization has members in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Front Royal buys power from the organization at wholesale prices and distributes electricity to customers in and around the municipality.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com