City to Store Solar Generated Energy

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Kevin Murphy

MIDDLETON–The City of Middleton was awarded a state grant that will allow the electricity generated by solar panels on the roof of the Middleton Police Department Building to be stored in the building’s basement, the Public Service Commission (PSC) announced last week.

The city will use the $212,000 Energy Innovation Grant to purchase and install batteries that will store power from the 100-kilowatt solar installation on the roof of the biggest city-owned energy user, according to the grant application.

“(T)his will be our first battery storage project, but hopefully not the last,” Kelly Hilyard, the city’s sustainability coordinator wrote in an emailed reply to a reporter’s questions.

There’s an emergency generator in the building that was is used typically about twice a year and most notably during a 2013 daytime power outage and the August 2018 flood. However, the generator can be used for only a limited time and fuel may not be available during a catastrophic event making the ability to generate and store electricity even more valuable, according to Hilyard.

“(T)he storage batteries gives an added layer of resiliency…(and) can save us money on peak energy usage,” Hilyard wrote.

The solar panels currently generate about 25 percent of the building’s energy needs and the city will buy the panels from MG&E under an agreement made when the utility installed them.

HGA Engineering, of Middleton, will design the battery project and oversee its installation probably within the year, Hilyard stated.

The city’s cost share is $4,991 and it couldn’t pursue the project without the grant, according to Hilyard.

The battery project grew from a 2018 energy grant the city received and used with six other Dane County municipalities to hire Slipstream Consulting to write energy plans specific to each city. Middleton set energy goals in 2018 and the grant-funded plan outlined how it could be reached.

Completed last fall, the 2020 Energy Plan is being rolled out now and focuses mainly on city operations, but also includes some community-wide initiatives, Hilyard wrote.

The city has goal of being 100 percent powered by renewable electricity by 2035 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Solar installations are currently generating about seven percent of city electrical usage, according to the Energy Plan.

Hilyard acknowledged there is “plenty of work to do both internally in city operations and the in the greater community.” She noted that budget-constraining levy limits require the city to look for other resources and information that businesses and residents can use “so that we can all move more quickly to climate change.”

City Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) policy includes provisions to spur energy efficiency and the city shares its experience with developers inside and outside of TIF districts who understand the cost benefits and payback periods from solar projects, Hilyard wrote.

The storage battery project isn’t being designed to export electricity to other city buildings, but it could be designed to have the batteries reversed charge in an emergency from electric vehicles in the city’s fleet.

“(O)nce batteries are included with solar projects, there are so many ways to use them. They are versatile. As we ‘electrify everything’ and have ways to store the electrons for later use, it opens up a host of opportunities.

“I think how we produce our energy and how we store it and use it will change significantly over the course of the next 10 years,” Hilyard wrote. 

The city’s energy grant was among the 32 grants totaling $7 million awarded by the PSC. More than 100 application were submitted, with storage battery projects among the most popular request.

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