Eau Claire plans more solar investments

Aug. 5—EAU CLAIRE — Adding solar panels to a south side fire station and the municipal ice center are among projects the city is planning to help reach its lofty clean energy goal.

Ned Noel, senior city planner, said the two projects are slated for the next two years as they’re the most clearly defined out of a list of potential ways Eau Claire can trim its use of fossil fuels.

“Those are the two projects that are more dialed in,” he said.

Included in Eau Claire’s proposed 2023-27 Capital Improvement Plan — which the City Council is scheduled to vote on in autumn — the projects are part of the city’s aim to run entirely on renewable energy by 2050.

If the plan is approved, Fire Station No. 5, 2500 Patton St., would get solar panels added to either its roof or a grassy area next to the building. The plan allocates $150,000 toward that in 2023.

That would follow in the footsteps of a similar project completed in spring 2021 at Fire Station No. 8, 3510 Starr Ave. A small array of solar panels there are close to making enough power to offset nearly all of the station’s electrical needs, Noel said.

Tentatively in 2024, the plan would put $275,000 into adding solar panels at Hobbs Ice Center, 915 Menomonie St. This would be coupled with a separate project to convert lighting at the ice center into energy efficient LED fixtures, thereby reducing the building’s power needs.

Money for the upcoming solar projects would come from a special fund the City Council started in the 2019 budget, which sets aside money each year for investments in clean energy.

That specific fund has already added the solar panels at Fire Station No. 8, contributed toward a geothermal heating system at the remodeled public library, helped fund an electric car charging station at a city parking lot and purchased two yet-to-be installed solar canopies for city parks.

“Those are the four projects we’ve funded to date yet from that fund,” Noel said.

During 2018 — the same year elected Eau Claire leaders set their ambitious clean energy goal — the city also received a preliminary site study of public buildings where adding solar power would be especially beneficial.

In addition to the fire stations and ice center, the city’s water treatment plant and wastewater treatment plant were both listed in that study among the promising candidates for solar power. The plan for Eau Claire’s capital projects for the next five years shows a solar micro-grid system might be installed at the water plant in 2024. That project would be paid for by bonds taken out by the water utility, as opposed to the special fund the council created for other renewable energy projects.

At the current pace, Noel said the city is completing about one to two clean energy projects per year.

Councilwoman Kate Felton (née Beaton) was one of the leading champions of setting the city’s energy goal in 2018 and budgeting to reach it.

She views investments in renewable energy as having both environmental and economic benefits to the city.

“The effort of the city to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is us doing our part,” she said, noting that other cities, the state, nation and other countries are making strides to combat climate change.

Given recent spikes in fossil fuel energy prices, Felton said it makes good financial sense to produce our own power here through locally made, renewable energy sources like solar.

Felton said the city is doing a “good job” and is aggressively moving toward its clean energy goal, but there’s always the potential to do more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *