As director of sustainability for the city of Indianapolis, John Hazlett has big plans—and not enough money in his budget to make them happen.
So, he sometimes has to look for creative ways to finance projects.
A few years ago, his counterpart in Cincinnati told him that the Ohio city was paying for solar installations on city buildings by selling power back to the local utility under a feed-in tariff program. Hazlett thought about ways to make a similar solar project a reality in Indianapolis.
At about the same time, the local utility, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL), was launching a pilot feed-in tariff program. IPL would pay a guaranteed high rate for years for renewable power generated by local businesses and residents.
“I saw an opportunity,” Hazlett said.
Now, after two years of prep work and politicking, Indianapolis’s city buildings are getting some solar panels. But unlike Cincinnati, Indianapolis won’t own them. Instead, they’ll lease the rooftop space to a local solar developer, which will get paid through IPL’s feed-in tariff.
The solar developer, the Indianapolis-based mechanical and electrical contracting firm Johnson-Melloh, will employ local workers, Hazlett said. The installations will be at 30 “highly visible” city-owned sites, he added, including recreation centers, the space between parking lots, and the Indianapolis City-County Building, a large municipal building that houses city offices and courts.
“We see it as local economic development,” he said. What’s more, “we want to use renewables to educate the public more on where we get our energy and how we can diversify that mix a little bit by incorporating renewables,” Hazlett said.
Scaling up solar
Indianapolis established its Office of Sustainability in 2008 under its then-new mayor, Greg Ballard. And over the next three years, Hazlett and his colleagues spent $18 million on energy efficiency retrofits of 61 city-owned buildings.
These included an $8 million retrofit of the Indianapolis City-County Building that included replacing thousands of incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent lighting, installing a solar thermal water heater, installing a geothermal heat recovery chiller system to help heat or cool the 28-story building, four small wind turbines on the plaza outside, and a dashboard in the building’s lobby where visitor’s can see the building’s energy consumption in real time.
But all the energy retrofits were just the beginning, as Hazlett saw it. “We were interested in doing a more concentrated effort in large-scale renewable development,” he said.
Since the fall of 2011, Hazlett’s team has identified 30 sites to install banks of solar panels. They have contracted with Johnson-Melloh, which will own the solar panels and lease roof space from the city for 15 years, said Kurt Schneider, the company’s cofounder and vice president.
IPL will pay Johnson-Melloh 24 cents per kWh for the electricity, and the company will also get breaks on its taxes for installing renewable energy, Schneider said. The rate is higher than the retail cost for electricity, but also helps the utility avoid the expense of new generating capacity.