Coolidge wastewater treatment plant

The Coolidge wastewater treatment plant could be powered by solar energy as early as 2021.

COOLIDGE — The City Council moved forward on a major renewable energy project on Monday, approving the construction of a solar array on the city’s wastewater treatment plant to be completed by the end of 2021.

The project is designed to significantly reduce energy costs at the site; the wastewater pumps, which have high peak energy loads, currently account for one-third of Coolidge’s yearly energy budget. The panels will help offset energy costs during those peak load periods.

According to City Manager Rick Miller, the solar company Urban Energy Solutions has been working with and advising Coolidge business leaders on identifying ways to become more energy efficient, and city officials were swayed by the presentation of the solar array concept.

The solar panels will have a 20- to 25-year life span, over which time they are expected to produce savings that will more than exceed the initial cost of installation, currently estimated at around $440,000. The city has requested a Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona loan for sustainability projects, which could amount to a 50% credit. The WIFA board will discuss Coolidge’s application as part of its upcoming agenda. Miller expects the panels to be built regardless.

The wastewater arrays will be the second major energy-saving project in Coolidge. The first was a switch to LED streetlights, including on the water tower. Miller said the savings from changing high-pressure sodium to LED lights has been “pretty significant.”

Miller said the city has been frequently approached by renewable and energy saving companies over the past few years.

“A few years ago we put out a request for these kinds of companies to come in,” Miller said. “We want to make sure the life of the project extends so the city realizes the savings after the initial costs are paid.”

According to Miller, the in-house savings from the streetlight conversion helped allow money to be reallocated into projects like the new public works building. Miller also suggested money could be used to see economic expansion and growth in the coming years.

As a whole, Pinal County has seen a number of large-scale solar projects in recent years, although not all of that energy is directly used by local municipalities. Two solar farms are currently under construction in Coolidge, to be operated respectively by NextEra Energy Resources and Sustainable Power Group.

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Aaron Dorman is a reporter covering Coolidge and the surrounding area. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.

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