Carmel awards bid to install solar panels at 2 sites

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The City of Carmel plans to install solar panels at two sites in the spring of 2020 to save on energy costs and provide a backup source of power in an emergency.

The Board of Public Works earlier this month approved a bid of more than $1.5 million to Carmel-based Solential Energy to complete the project. The panels will be installed mostly out of sight at the wastewater treatment plant at 106th and Gray Road and near the sanitary sewer pump station on Hazel Dell Parkway.

Carmel Utilities Director John Duffy said the panels are expected to save the city $130,000 per year in energy costs. More importantly, Mayor Jim Brainard said they can power utilities during an extended power outage.

Brainard said the need for additional backup systems was evident in June when parts of the city went without power for three days after severe weather. Generators helped keep water moving through the system at that time, but major problems could occur if an outage lasted longer than available fuel, Brainard said.

“What if that (power outage) had gone on for a week or so?” Brainard said. “It becomes a life-safety issue. If you don’t have water in the towers, you don’t have any water pressure in the fire hydrants.”

The city also expects to install a battery storage system so energy from the solar panels can be used when energy costs are at their daily peak. The city is still researching battery storage systems, and that part of the project is not included in the $1.5 million bid award.

“We’ll get a decent return on our investment it appears, because electricity is billed at different rates at different times of the day when there’s demand,” Brainard said.

The city also plans to install solar panels on top of the Veterans Way and Booth Tarkington parking garages at a future date. The panels would be built on top of a canopy that would still allow cars to park on the top floor.

Brainard said he doesn’t know when those solar panels will be installed.

“We’re waiting to get the (Hotel Carmichael) finished and see what’s available in the budget,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns at this point in construction.”

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