Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, April 18, 2013 | 1:21 p.m.
With the flip of a switch, Las Vegas city officials today celebrated the powering up of 15,000 new solar panels that will provide energy to a nearby wastewater treatment plant.
The ground-mounted panels are packed tightly on 25 acres of city-owned land near Vegas Valley Drive and Nellis Boulevard.
The site had previously been a vacant strip of land the city used as a buffer for its wastewater treatment plant, which processes all of the city’s wastewater on its way to Lake Mead.
During the dedication ceremony, Mayor Carolyn Goodman touted the project as part of the city’s comprehensive sustainability plan, which includes renewable energy, energy efficiency, recycling and waste management.
“It’s all about sustainability for the city and our citizens to make sure that we’re using every resource that we can to keep down the costs of energy,” she said. “The council wants the financial resources we have available to go as far they can.”
The $20 million project will generate 6 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to provide about 20 percent of the treatment plant’s power.
Because the plant accounts for a third of the city’s annual energy bill, the solar panels will provide a big savings, Tom Perrigo, the city’s chief sustainability officer, said.
“Our energy spend breaks down to about a third for wastewater treatment, a third for street lights and a third for city buildings,” he said. “By providing solar here at this facility, we’re able to make a big impact on the city’s overall energy consumption.”
The three-megawatt solar panel installation is the largest in a growing portfolio of renewable energy projects owned by the city.
Solar panels installed at 29 other city-owned buildings generate a combined two megawatts of power, bringing the city’s total capacity to five megawatts and hitting a benchmark set by the city council in 2008.
Perrigo said the solar panels and other energy efficiency programs, such as installing LED light bulbs, have helped cut the city’s annual energy bill from $15 million to $10 million over the last three years.
The treatment plant project was funded using money from the city’s sanitary enterprise fund. Using rebates and grants, Perrigo said, the city is able to drive down the costs of installing solar panels.
The renewable energy projects will pay for themselves in about 25 years, but they are expected to be in use for upwards of 40 years, he said.
“The cost is neutral to the general fund,” he said. “They pay for themselves and will continue producing power for many years.”