IT’S OVER 9,000 — More than 21,000 solar panels will be installed on the former Continental Steel site. The solar farm is expected to be operational by December.
Inovateus will power 1,000 homes from former Continental Steel site
Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2015 4:00 pm
It’s an idea that the city of Kokomo has flirted with for seven years, and now it’s happening. Inovateus Solar LLC of South Bend has entered an agreement with Duke Energy to produce solar power in the city, and it will use the former Continental Steel site to do it.
“We are excited,” said Mayor Greg Goodnight. “It generates a little bit of revenue for the city, but they take on the responsibility of the area being covered and helps us save a little money on upkeep.
“We’ve had other people show interest in doing this over the years, but this seemed like the best fit. Everything is good environmentally. There are some places on the property where they will be limited on what they can do, but others that will allow a more liberal reuse.”
According to Duke Energy spokesman Lew Middleton, the company has signed a 20-year agreement with Inovateus to produce up to five megawatts of power annually from a solar farm. That five megawatts will power 1,000 homes annually. He acknowledged that the Kokomo solar farm will be a small part of Duke’s portfolio, but it is important.
“We are trying to provide clean and responsible energy,” said Middleton. “It is a commitment to add more ‘green’ power to our energy mix as part of a legal settlement we reached with consumer groups in August 2013 regarding our Edwardsport coal gasification power plant air permits.”
Middleton said the agreements have been submitted to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission for review and approval. Duke hopes for a decision by the middle of 2015.
Austin Williams, senior account executive with Inovateus, is similarly pleased about the prospect of bringing a solar farm to Kokomo.
“It’s a great project,” said Williams. “We’re going to cover the old Continental Steel site with solar panels. It’s exciting.”
Williams said that in talking with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, he discovered that the agency had been searching for an accepted use for the property ever since remediation was completed.
“I think we’re finally going to do that,” said Williams. “Duke wants to buy the power, and we’re an Indiana company that happened to be successful with our proposal to go there.”
Inovateus Solar LLC formed in 2008, evolving from its green building roots. Founder Tom Kanczuzewski learned about solar technology from George Howard, Ph.D. and renewable energy pioneer Stan Ovshinsky and built the business into one of the nation’s top providers of solar energy. The company is based in South Bend, Ind.
“We’ve been in the business for an eternity in solar years,” said Williams. “We started designing LEED-certified green homes and naturally moved into solar as the housing market tanked. Now, it is our bread and butter.”
Williams explained that the farm will produce direct current wattage, as opposed to alternating current, which means that 6.5 megawatts of energy will be produced in Kokomo annually. Inovateus does this because there are very few times that the farm will hit peak output each year.
Williams estimates that the farm will utilize about 21,000 solar panels to capture and convert energy. The panels will be mounted to a single-axis tracking system which allows them to follow the sun’s path throughout the day.
“This increases the yield substantially, which counteracts the lower solar yield in the state,” said Williams.
According to city engineer Carey Stranahan, the city will lease the land to Inovateus, as it was the only company to respond to a request for proposals in December. The Kokomo Board of Works and Public Safety is expected to consider approval of the project at its Jan. 21 meeting.
The Kokomo Common Council also will consider the lease, as the proceeds from the transaction are expected to exceed $25,000.
“The project allows the Continental Steel Main Plan Site to be put back into productive reuse,” said Stranahan. “The site has limited redevelopment opportunities due to its compromised environmental situation.
“IDEM has been notified of the project, and will be approving the redevelopment plan. The lessee will be responsible to maintain the protective cap on the site, as well as maintain the vegetation and improvements.”
Williams explained that the steel piles anchoring the solar panels will penetrate the 18-inch soil cap placed over the contaminated ground, but no soil will be removed. There will be no digging, grading, or installation of cement footers which would require exposure to the contamination.
“We’ve managed to avoid that,” said Williams.
Skeptics of solar energy might wonder why Indiana is considered a good place for a solar farm, as the state experiences fewer than 60 days of full sun each year. Williams countered that clear, sunny skies are not a necessity for a successful solar farm.
“Overall, we have four and a half sun hours per day on average,” said Williams. “We’ll produce at a point high enough to deliver energy to Duke. It’s not bad, considering that 30-40 percent of Germany’s energy is renewable, and they have about 3.7 sun hours a day. We’re sunnier than a place that has a heck of a lot of solar.
“The key is technology has improved. We’ve simplified it. It’s steel in the ground and a few silicon modules. That makes it cost-effective. And you’re pre-paying for energy for 20-30 years. The costs are up-front, but you can say the same thing about a new oil refinery. And we have no fuel costs and almost no maintenance. The combination of labor efficiency and materials at a low cost makes it work now.
“Sure, it makes sense in sunny places like Arizona or in New Jersey where there are a lot of subsidies. But now it is starting to make sense in places people didn’t expect, and Indiana is one of them.”
Inovateus anticipates that once regulators approve the project, it will take the company three to five months to construct the solar farm. Williams said the operational target for the farm is December, but the company is confident that it could begin operations as early as October.