Solar Array to Power Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority Facilities
January 17, 2024

The Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority (CCRRA) is moving forward with a solar array project to provide 100% of the power at its facilities on Transfer Road in College Township.

The authority’s board on Jan. 8 awarded the bid for the $1.2 million project to State College-based solar energy company Envinity. Eight bids were received from around the state, CCRRA office manager Katrina Pope said.

Solar panels will be installed on the roofs of the authority’s buildings and the array will be owned by CCRRA, so it will no longer need to pay a utility company for electricity. The array will have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, and the initial investment is expected to be recovered in 7.2 years, Pope said.

CCRRA currently has what Pope called “a ridiculously cheap electric rate” of 4 cents per kilowatt hour sourced through Pennsylvania’s COSTARS Electricity Procurement Services, which is provided through the Penn State Facilities Engineering Institute (PSFEI) to bid fuel costs for government entities. The three-year contract for that rate, however, expires at the end of 2024 and CCRRA anticipates rates will at least double in 2025.

The authority currently pays about $40,000 a year for electricity, and projected utility company rates for 2025 would push that to $80,000, so CCRRA could save more than $2 million in electricity bills over the life of the array.

Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC) also will provide revenue to CCRRA. SRECs are earned from every 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy created by a solar power system and are purchased by utility companies on an open market to meet requirements for producing a minimum amount of electricity from renewable sources.

The authority’s array is expected to generate 940,000 kilowatt hours per year.

“We will own the array and then we will also own the energy credits, so it’s going to be a win-win for us and then every user in the county of our services,” Pope said.

Installation costs for the array will be offset by an anticipated $400,000 credit from a provision in the federal Inflation Reduction Act that provides a 30% credit for qualifying investments in renewable energy systems. One-time energy efficiency rebates from power companies may provide about $60,000, and the authority is applying for a grant from the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund to support the project.

Centre County commissioners unanimously endorsed a letter of support for the grant application during their meeting on Tuesday.

“I know we’ve had great success with our solar array at the correctional facility and saved substantial amounts of money,” Board of Commissioners Chair Mark Higgins said. “We’re looking at probably somewhere above $8 million over its useful life. That’s about double the initial estimate.”

CCRRA started looking into installing its own array about a year ago.

The authority was part of the working group of Centre County entities that since 2019 has been exploring a joint solar power purchase agreement, under which a developer would build an array in the county and the participating agencies would purchase electricity at a fixed rate (a final proposal is expected this year). But PSFEI energy management consultant Scott Harford told CCRRA it had enough roof space for an array and could save more money by installing its own.

“We decided to take a hard look to see if we could install our own array and go that route to generate our solar,” Pope said.

Through its GET Solar program, the Pennsylvania Solar Center facilitated the request for proposal process at no cost.

“That’s available definitely for nonprofits and local governments, but it’s worth looking into if you’re a local business as well looking into getting into solar,” Pope said. “They’ve really been a great technical support.”

In addition to the CCRRA buildings, the authority is considering extending the project to the renewable natural gas station on Transfer Road. The station, which fuels CCRRA’s fleet, is on authority property and leased to Clean Energy Fuels Corp.

The additional panels could help meet future capacity needs, should they arise. Conversations with Clean Energy have been “very preliminary,” but the authority also hopes that in exchange for reduced electricity costs, the company would contribute to installation costs and offer a reduced rate on fuel.

CCRRA, meanwhile, is optimistic its solar array will be up and running by the end of the year.

“Since our electric rate expires December 31, 2024, I hope we go live before January 1 of 2025,” Pope said. “… I don’t think they have to be perfectly aligned, but if the stars loosely align, we can definitely meet that goal. We designed the timeline of the RFP to be able to get things awarded early in January so that we could get some of the permitting done before construction would be able to take place.”

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