WIFA helping communities convert to solar

Solar panels constructed as part of WIFA's plan to help communities convert to solar energy. Photograph via Pacific Advanced Civil Engineering water company.
Solar panels constructed as part of WIFA’s plan to help communities convert to solar energy. Photograph via Pacific Advanced Civil Engineering water company.

Five rural cities in Arizona are being powered by solar thanks to loans from the state’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority.

Another three cities will be considered for low-interest authority loans to install solar in parts of their cities as well, all in an effort to support a more sustainable society while reducing electric bills.

Susan Craig, the authority’s communication director, said that over the past year, five of the nine loans they provided went to rural areas in Arizona. Two of the most recent projects were started in Bisbee and Douglas.

“[Arizona] is an ideal environment because we have so much sun and so it makes sense to take advantage of that opportunity to get your energy from solar,” said Melanie Ford, technical program supervisor. “It works very well here in our sunny environment and it’s also very cost effective.”

The authority is an independent state agency that works with municipalities to improve their drinking water, wastewater, wastewater reclamation and other water quality facilities and projects. The agency offers below-market interest rates on its loans.

The City of Douglas received a $1.3 million loan to install a 300-kilowatt solar system, according to an authority press release.

In July 2013 a $1.6 million loan went to the city of Bisbee to pay for the installation of a 400-kilowatt solar system to power its San Jose Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Thomas Klimek, Bisbee’s public works director, said the system will save the city $50,000 a year and reduce its electric bill by about 60 percent.

Klimek said that the only way this project could happen was with the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, which also agreed to forgive $400,000 of the loan. This allowed Bisbee to increase the savings from the treatment plant and continue making energy efficient improvements.

Klimek said going solar reduces emissions, which puts less of an impact on the environment.

“It definitely reduces the carbon footprint,” Ford said, “because you’re not using as much electricity generated from power plants from fossil fuels.”

Klimek said the solar system should be completed by late December.

Whitney Burgoyne is a reporter with Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. You can contact her at burgoynew@email.arizona.edu

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