FOLEY - Could Foley soon be home to a new array of solar panels? That is the hope of Tom DeBell, the General Manager and CEO at Riviera Utilities. DeBell came before the Foley council on Monday, June …
FOLEY - Could Foley soon be home to a new array of solar panels? That is the hope of Tom DeBell, the General Manager and CEO at Riviera Utilities. DeBell came before the Foley council on Monday, June 5, to introduce the idea of placing an array of solar panels at a yet undecided location.
“I just wanted to introduce this concept to you,” DeBell began. “We’ve got an opportunity to get the community solar, and the good news about it is we can do it at practically no cost to us.”
Riviera purchases its power through Alabama Municipal Electric Authority, otherwise known as AMEA, who have recently set aside funds for this project. While the process is still in the early stages, DeBell and his core team at Riviera have already begun seeking out locations that may be used for the solar array.
“I just wanted to introduce this idea, we’re not looking for any action today,” DeBell stressed. “We have to negotiate some agreements on who’s going to own what, how the agreements are going to work, and what land it’s going to be on. But as to what our message is with this project, it’s that we want to be the local leader in doing this, and I see this as a great opportunity for us to partner between Riviera, the city, and bring the schools into it.”
If the panels were to come, AMEA would do an array like the one that they set up in Montgomery, which is a 50KW array. Though a small array, approximately the equivalent of ten Honda generators, it would be the start of bringing solar energy into Foley, and a means to both introduce and educate the citizens about solar energy.
“We want to get as much public exposure out of this as possible,” said DeBell. Due to that fact, the team at Riviera has been focusing on locations that will be both visible and accessible to the public. So far, they have as many as four potential sites that they are inquiring into.
The first possibility is the location on the corner of Section St and Hwy 59. The challenge on that property would be with drainage, so while the visibility would be ideal the team must investigate further to see if the location will hold.
Another location under consideration is the empty lot beside the Foley Dog Park. As of now, the city has claimed that they do not have any immediate plans for the spot, which leaves it an open opportunity for the solar array.
“Some of the reasoning behind this location is we could extend this concept further than just community solar, and maybe we could tie in some electric vehicle charging stations,” DeBell said. “If the array was right next to the roadshow, maybe we could use it, and implement some battery banks and power the lights at the roadshow, do something that’s a little forward thinking.”
The other advantage would be the amount of public exposure that the solar panels would be subjected to, something that the team at Riviera is excited to share. They hope to tie the project into other community purposes and make it a community demonstration, where people can ask questions and see the array up close.
“We want to set up a website where we can detail every step of this thing, including costs,” said DeBell. “Then we can monitor the output of it, maybe put a real-time link to the output so people can see what an array like this puts out during the day. Then if someone has an interest in solar they don’t have to go through all the expense of putting one on their house right now.”
Aside from the public exposure the solar array would receive, DeBell also hopes to include the schools in the process as well. He has spoken with Russ Moore, principal of Foley High School, and plans to speak in more detail at a later date once the location has been chosen.
“I thought this was a great opportunity for the career tech side in the high school,” DeBell said. “This project involves everything: it’s got the financial side, it’s got the technical side, if you’re talking about interfacing between governmental energies, it’s got the governmental side, there’s a lot of pieces here.”
The team hopes that the timing of the construction will coincide with the beginning of the next school year, which would make including the career tech courses feasible.
DeBell hopes to have the site chosen by the end of summer, and from there, he hopes to be the first in line to receive the solar array from AMEA.
“We don’t have a lot of experience in this, and we need to get moving. This is the time, this is an opportunity for us to do it,” DeBell said. “AMEA is going to do this at each of its 11 members, and I’d really like to be first. I’m pushing this along because I’d love for this to get off the ground before anybody else.”
Once the array went up, it would provide the city experience in the process of solar power, and would pave the way for more arrays to be set up in the future, perhaps even larger arrays with more energy output.