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Throughout 2017 the City of Fremont focused on harnessing the power of the sun, with concept becoming reality as a new Community Solar Farm broke ground in October.

Following an August 2016 survey, more than 70 percent of Fremont’s residential population responded saying they were interested in getting power from a community solar farm.

In early 2017, the City of Fremont again gave residents a chance to voice their opinions about the proposed solar farm at the Home and Builders Show at Christensen Field in January.

“More than 200 people interested in learning about the solar farm attended one of the presentations held the last weekend in January at the Home and Builders Show, and more than half have indicated they’re ready to join the community solar farm, said Brian Newton, general manager of the Department of Utilities and interim city administrator. “I was very pleased with the level of support we’re getting and how many people have expressed an interest in signing up. Many complimented city leaders with proposing a community solar farm be built in Fremont and specifically how they listened to what people want—access to renewable energy.”

Residents said their reasons for wanting to join a community solar farm were threefold: to lessen the city’s dependence on fossil fuel, renewable energy is good for the environment and it offers possible long-term financial savings, released information states.

Participating in a community solar farm offered several advantages over installing roof-mounted solar panels to a home. First, whether people own or rent their home, they could join and get power from the solar farm. Second, joining the community solar farm meant no operational or maintenance issues because the Department of Utilities will operate and maintain the farm. Lastly, building a farm with thousands of solar panels will not only produce more electricity, but produce electricity at a much lower cost than from standalone roof-top units.

Newton said during an interview with the Tribune earlier this year that the project would cost approximately $2 million, which includes the installation of 3,900 solar panels at a location near the Lon D. Wright Power Plant.

Anybody who is a customer of the Fremont Department of Utilities had the opportunity to purchase solar shares that would cover up to 80 percent of their used Kilowatt-hours.

“There will be a one- and a- half-page agreement that they will sign to join,” Newton said. “We divided it into shares, because one thing the survey told us is that they (residents) wanted a fixed allocation per month, they didn’t want it going up and down. They wanted a flat amount each month.”

In June, the City approved financing for the project with the Fremont City Council unanimously approving a resolution authorizing $1.5 million in financing and allowing the Department of Utilities the authority to obtain participation commitments.

People involved with the farm had one of two options: They could buy their own panel(s) and get a 30-percent tax credit, or they could simply buy the energy that comes out of the farm through a share system.

Participation in the Fremont Community Solar Farm was available to all customers of Fremont, subject to a signed agreement.

Residents could purchase panels at the farm for $180 each, or purchase solar energy shares for $.06/kWh.

“You don’t have to worry about southern orientation of your roof, you don’t have to worry about trees, you don’t have to worry about climbing on your roof, maintenance, anything,” he said. “So it was really a great deal for our customers and a lot of them took advantage of it.”

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The city sold out 1 megawatt in five weeks and then decided to expand another .55 megawatts, which sold out in two weeks. 180 residential customers subscribed, along with 20 commercial customers and there are 70 more residential customers on a waiting list for a possible expansion.

“We are committed to try to do another megawatt this year, we have 70 names already on the list, and we are hoping to sell it out easily in a few weeks as well,” he said.

The farm itself will encompass approximately 5 of the 10-acre plot being developed on Jack Sutton Drive, consisting of approximately 3,900 panels.

According to Newton, the farm produces 1,712,719 kilowatt hours annually, with each panel representing 43 kilowatt hours monthly.

GenPro Energy Solutions based out of Piedmont, S.D., is installing the farm. The farm should be ready for use by February 2018.

“As long as the sun is shining it will be up and running,” he said. “It doesn’t care about those cold temperatures.”

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