FAIRHOPE — A new solar power research station in the Fairhope City Hall parking lot will also provide a location for electric-vehicle drivers to charge while shopping or visiting downtown, project supporters said Wednesday, May 4.
The station, a joint effort by the city and Alabama Municipal Electric Authority provides spaces to charge up to six electric vehicles under a canopy of solar panels capable of generating up to 24 kilowatts of electricity.
Mayor Sherry Sullivan said the AMEA dedicated $1 million to allow member cities to build solar research projects. Fairhope is one of 11 cities belonging to the authority.
"I'm really excited to be able to offer this to our citizens and visitors who come to Fairhope," Sullivan said. "This a 24-kW solar charging station for electric vehicles. It's going to be able to allow us to demonstrate how renewable energy can be used to charge vehicles, but also to encourage people to look at how you can use renewable energy in our community."
She said the project will encourage business downtown by providing a site where electric vehicles can be charged while the drivers visit local businesses.
"These are not only just to show the innovation of solar power, but also to use for economic development," Sullivan said. "That's one reason why it's placed here in downtown. People can charge their electric and then, obviously, visit our restaurants and shops here in Fairhope."
She said that in addition to the six charging locations at city hall, Fairhope has another four sites at the downtown municipal parking garage.
Sullivan said most AMEA solar projects are 50 kilowatt facilities. She said the additional panels allocated for Fairhope will be used at the city's Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics education center operated by the Fairhope Education Enrichment Foundation.
"Typically, these are 50 kW projects versus 24 kW projects," Sullivan said. "Some of these solar panels will also be used at the STEAM center there on the campus of the K-1 Center that FEEF is doing to be able to capture that solar power there, to be able to educate students, so this not only a project for economic development, that shows renewable energy, but that will be used to educate our students locally."
Fred Clark, AMEA chief executive officer, said the new facility is an innovation for the city and authority.
"We're excited about Fairhope and all that Fairhope brings to our community," Clark said. "Fairhope Utilities is one of the leading municipal electric utilities in the Southeast doing innovative things every day for the benefit and reliability of electric service for their consumers."
He said the Fairhope site and other solar power stations around the state will help the authorities and residents study the use of solar power.
"This facility will enable Fairhope's consumers and those nearby to be able to look online and see when electric generation is coming from solar," Clark said. "We have learned quite a lot with these research parks, enough so that we're building a 100-megawatt facility in Montgomery County that all of our consumers will be able to benefit from."
He said the Fairhope station will generate enough electricity to power two homes when fully charging, but the site will provide data on renewable energy for the future.
"We're excited about being able to learn more about alternative resources that can benefit our member cities as we provide the lowest possible rates to our consumers, our customers, the cities and in turn, the cities' customers, the citizens of Fairhope and other communities," Clark said.
Fairhope City Councilman Jack Burrell, a member of the AMEA board of directors, said some AMEA projects use solar stations placed in open areas. He said Fairhope officials wanted to place the city's station in a more visible site.
"Thank you to AMEA and the member cities for working with the city of Fairhope to come up with a project such as this," Burrell said. "Being a solar canopy instead of a quarter-acre field of panels. I think this also shows the dedication of AMEA to green energy sources. It also shows that we're trying to diversify."
Burrell said the city also plans to add additional electric vehicle charging stations on U.S. 98.
Sullivan said the AMEA approved an additional $55,000 for Fairhope to use to set up more charging stations. She said the money can be used as matching funds to help pay for stations on U.S. 98 and other sites.
Sullivan said the Fairhope stations use Charge Point technology, one of the standard systems for using charging stations.
"You basically just set up an account with them, you swipe your card, and we charge you for the power that you use," Sullivan said. "This is the technology that most people associated with AMEA are using."