GONZALES — Solar panels at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center are saving Ascension Parish government about $15,000 to $20,000 per month on electricity bills for the big parish-owned multiuse complex.
Those monthly savings from the panels, which were funded through a federal environmental settlement, translate into $180,000 to $240,000 per year, parish officials said.
“Ten percent of our annual output for 2015 at Lamar-Dixon was attributed to the solar panels being online,” Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa said in a statement.
The panels were installed in fall 2014 on the roofs of three barns at Lamar-Dixon. The parish also has an LED lighting system along a walking trail around the lake at the complex.
The panels gather electricity in the day and store it in batteries, which release the power at night.
The solar projects were part of $10.5 million in mitigation required under a March 2013 federal consent decree settling Clean Air Act violations alleged over emissions from the coal-fired Big Cajun II power plant near New Roads. NRG, which owns the plant through a subsidiary, also had to pay fines and do upgrades to Big Cajun II.
While Ascension Parish officials were working on the panels, they also negotiated a new contract with Entergy Corp., the electric utility for Lamar-Dixon.
Then-Parish President Tommy Martinez had hoped to realize additional savings from the new deal, which consolidated the number of meters at the 247-acre facility off the Interstate 10/La. 30 exit.
Ken Dawson, who has served at chief administrative officer under Martinez and Matassa, said Thursday the contract probably led to some marginal cost savings but has helped the parish as far as managing its power use better with only one electrical meter.
He said the new contract did not involve provisions to have Entergy buy back unused solar power from Lamar-Dixon.
“Everything that is produced out here is being consumed at the site,” Dawson said.
Matassa pointed out that the solar panels have avoided the release of 308 tons of carbon dioxide per year so far.
A naturally trace constituent of the atmosphere that is exhaled when people breathe, carbon dioxide has been on the rise for decades in the atmosphere due to burning fossil fuels.
Carbon dioxide is among a group of so-called greenhouse gases that scientists believe are contributing to long-term, human-caused global warming trends that already have brought changes to the climate, reduced snow and ice cover and raised ocean levels, according to a United Nations panel’s latest assessment.
Matassa and Dawson aired the hope of earning the parish emission credits from the solar panels that could be available to other industrial users.
But state Department of Environmental Quality officials said Friday the current banking system — which involves criteria pollutants like nitrogen oxides, not carbon dioxide — would not apply to the solar panels. DEQ is working on an early, skeleton plan on reducing greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide from electric power plants, but that plan remains under development.
The U.S. Supreme Court also temporarily halted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory effort requiring DEQ to develop that plan.
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