Sahuarita is investing in a solar panel array that could save the town more than $1 million over the 20-year contract.

An array of solar panels will crop up near Sahuarita’s wastewater plant by 2020, after the town council approved a contract Monday worth up to $3.2 million over 20 years.

The contract with Solon Corporation will reduce energy costs for the town from $800,000 to more than $3 million, depending on utility rates during the life of the contract, according to Solon.

Solon expects utility rates set by Tucson Electric Power to increase by 0.7 percent over the 20-year period, which would result in a total utility bill for the plant of almost $5 million – but only about $750,000 with solar.

After Solon’s $3.2 million for its contract, that’s a savings of about $1 million. If TEP’s rates go higher, the savings would be even greater.

If the utility increases rates by 4.7 percent annually, which Solon said represents the actual cost increase the wastewater plant has seen since 2013, the savings would be more than $3 million.

A.C. Marriotti, the town’s finance chief, said he has looked at several solar options over the years and Solon’s was one he supported.

“Far and away, this is the best proposal I’ve seen for a variety of reasons,” he said. “It checks all the boxes of concerns that I had from some of the other proposals we’ve had. So I feel very comfortable with our due diligence process.”

Solon is based in Tucson and has worked with several large local clients, including the University of Arizona, Pima Community College, TEP, school districts and Pima County.

The company looked at several facilities within Sahuarita to possibly install solar options, including the police department and town hall, but decided the wastewater plant made the most sense based on energy needs and other factors.

The solar panels will be built in a floodplain, which raised questions regarding liability and damage from the council.

Solon representative Luke Alm answered those concerns, telling the council that any maintenance or damage to the panels would be covered by Solon or its insurance company.

Furthermore, if for any reason the solar array does not produce the amount of power pledged by the company, Solon will pay the town the difference.

There will be no batteries or power-storing capability – the array will power the wastewater plant during the day and traditional power from TEP will be used at night.

The array will be owned by Solon, unless the town decides to purchase it at some point during or at the end of the contract. The price drops with each passing year, as does the array’s efficiency.

If the town decides not to purchase the array at the end of the 20-year period, Solon will remove the panels.

With the contract approved, Solon will now begin a site evaluation to determine how tall the panels must be to survive a 100-year flood, as well as how the number of panels needed.

Construction is expected to begin at the end of the year, with completion targeted for spring 2020.

Andrew Paxton | 520-547-9747

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