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Less money, smaller carbon footprint: What Silvis thinks of its PD solar array 2 years later

At times, the solar panels have generated enough energy to supply 90% of the police department's needs, and Silvis has saved $2,600 in 2021.

SILVIS, Ill. — The Silvis Police Department made the switch to solar energy in January 2020 when a solar array of 442 panels was installed in the empty field next door. 

It was part of a 30-year lease and purchase agreement with a private investor, meaning the city paid $0, but it was expected to save a total of $3,956 in energy savings in the panels' first year alone and $253,044 over its lifetime. 

It was also expected to provide the Silvis Police Department with 98% of its energy needs. 

Two years later, City Administrator Nevada Lemke said the city has been happy with the investment. 

"We've seen really good months where we've got 85-90%, and we've seen some months where we're at about 55-60%," Lemke said. "We've seen a little bit of both, but overall, it's a great supplement."

It all depends on how much direct sunlight the solar panels are getting. In the months where there's more sun, the panels have provided 16,000-17,000 kilowatt hours of power, Lemke said. This means the department relies less on MidAmerican Energy.

She added that when it was just using MidAmerican Energy, there were months the police department was averaging 20,000 kilowatt hours. 

"We're using less energy, we're reducing our carbon footprint, which is very important," Lemke said. "We definitely want to take that step to go green and to do whatever we can to create a healthier environment for our citizens. But just being that role model as the public agency to take that first step, and hopefully, residents will follow in our neighboring communities and partnering with the communities in the region as well and see if we can make it a bigger movement."

In 2021, Silvis saved $2,600 in energy savings, Lemke said. 

"(It) doesn't seem like much, but we have actually added some things on site up here that use energy," Lemke said. "They put up a new communications tower for the new P25 system that our police department will be joining. And then we've got a new security fence as well."

It's now money that can be allocated elsewhere. The money is part of the city's general fund, so Lemke said its not restricted on where it can be used. 

"Saving these costs allows us to put those other dollars towards different areas in the community of things that need funding to get done, our infrastructure projects or other public safety programs," she said. "It's been nice just to have that extra cushion and be able to just perform more projects than we typically would in a year."

The solar panels were installed when the new Silvis Police Department was built.

"It was a perfect time and a perfect site to install it, and then see how it goes," Lemke said. "It was kind of a trial run, our pilot site."

Now, she said, the city is looking to expand its solar power usage.  

"We're actually in the process of putting proposals together right now for both our public works and fire station," she said. "They're also exploring options for our water treatment plants as well to see if we are able to power some of our high service pumps using solar energy. So we're definitely looking to take it farther."

The plans are in the early stages, too soon to know whether Silvis would pay for the installation itself or have another purchase agreement with a private investor. Lemke said she thinks the solar panels would go on the roofs of the public works building and fire station. 

The water treatment solar panels would be a ground mount, like what's at the police department, but much smaller.

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