Torrington, WY October 4, 2023 — The Torrington City Council considered a solar energy generation project with the Municipal Energy Association of Nebraska (MEAN) and Sandhills Energy on Tuesday night.
MEAN is a not-for-profit organization that provides wholesale electricity supply and services to 69 communities – including Torrington, WY.
Sandhills Energy is a company from Omaha, NE that constructs and maintains renewable energy facilities across the nation.
In a nutshell, Sandhills Energy would lease property from the City of Torrington and construct and maintain a solar energy generation facility. Sandhills Energy would then sell the power generated from this facility to MEAN, who then provides electricity to Torrington.
Matt Reed, a representative from MEAN, gave an overview of the project in a presentation to council members on Tuesday night.
“It’s MEAN’s responsibility to provide wholesale electricity to the City of Torrington, and we try to do that at a lowest rate possible,” said Reed. “We came across this opportunity with Sandhills Energy for these solar facilities that we could strategically place in our member communities that would benefit them and benefit MEAN.”
“Basically, what we’re looking to do is to sign a Purchase Power Agreement (PPA) with Sandhills for a solar facility,” continued Reed. “This solar facility would be located within Torrington’s distribution system. In return, Sandhills would have a lease agreement with the City of Torrington and pay them for the use of that property. The PPA would specifically be between MEAN and Sandhills – where – MEAN would purchase the energy directly from Sandhills. With that, Sandhills would be the owner of this facility. They would be responsible for the construction, operations – anything associated with the facility itself.”
Raki Giannakouros, Executive Vice President of Sandhills Energy, brought up some concerns he had heard after talking with council members.
“My understanding is that there’s been some concerns about what happens if there was a weather event or an act of God that took it out of service, so, we would have obligations to restore it to order.”
Councilman Kelly brought up the damage experienced by a Scottsbluff, NE solar facility this past summer.
“I know the recent hailstorm in Scottsbluff destroyed their solar power down there,” said Kelly. “There was a lot of talk about hazardous material after that. If this were the case here, how would that material be handled?”
“For the most part, most of these materials are very inert. In the event that we had hail damage, or say a tornado – we had a system destroyed by a storm in Iowa – in any of those events we handle all of those materials responsibly. I think that’s in your lease as well – there’s protections in your lease that we have to maintain the integrity of the property and handle all materials safely,” said Giannakouros.
It was also mentioned during the meeting that the solar panels used by Sandhills Energy are hail resistant for up to 3″ hail traveling at 60mph.
Councilman Wayne Deahl addressed Raki, and asked if there were similar facilities in place.
“There’s many,” said Giannakouros. “We own and operate a handful of them in different areas. The oldest one that is comparable to yours would be 4 1/2 years old. It’s for a hospital, technically, but that would be the most comparable. I have one that’s about 3 years old for a municipality in Iowa.”
Councilman Kelly asked Giannakouros about the construction timeline and the potential impact on the local economy.
Giannakouros estimated a construction time of 20 weeks. While Sandhills Energy prioritizes American made products and material, most of the materials needed for construction would not be able to be purchased locally. Giannakouros did mention that there would be some civil work that could be hired from within the Torrington community.
Electrical Supervisor Dana Youtz, who’s been with the City’s Electrical Department for decades, was asked for his opinion on the project.
“I still have some concerns because of ongoing issues with other installations. I appreciate Raki doing due diligence on doing the safety features for us if we have to work on that line. I do have concerns about any effects it may have on our system. I have reservations. I’m not going to say yay or nay, that’s up to you folks.”
After almost an hour of discussion it was time for the Council to vote. Council members voted 3-2 in favor of continuing discussions on bringing this solar project to Torrington. This does not mean that the deal is completed.
Click below to view the full discussion: