Safford exploring building a solar array

Contributed Photo/Courtesy City of Safford: This image was included in the packet regarding the solar array proposal. Safford is examining building a solar field with a battery system to utilize power stored during the day at night and at other times of need.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – Looking to take advantage of federal funds of up to 90% of the total cost of the project, the city of Safford has begun the process to possibly bring a solar array and battery system to the Gila Valley.

The Safford City Council voted 4-2 to move forward with a letter of intent to explore bringing a solar array and battery system to Safford. Mayor Jason Kouts and Councilor Michael Andazola Sr. voted against the motion.  

Safford Utilities Director Jason Brimhall gave a presentation to the Safford City Council at its Monday night meeting and ran down the numbers for the council. He said there were only 10 communities throughout the entire nation that would qualify for the program and Safford is one of them. 

“You’re talking about 10 cents on the dollar for a project that provides the city of Safford’s needs for 20 to 25 years,” Brimhall said. Additionally, a substation the city has been looking to construct could also be included in the project.  

Brimhall gave an example of the construction of a 10 MW solar array with a 5 MW battery system that would take at least 30 acres of land and have a guaranteed 25-year lifespan with an overall expected lifespan of 40 years. He said the expected cost for such a project is roughly $60 million, but through the federal grants, the cost to the city would be about $10.5 million. While Brimhall gave that as an example, the size and numbers could change depending on what a preliminary analysis advises.    

Safford Mayor Jason Kouts asked where such a solar array would go since it would take 30-35 acres. Brimhall said the city had three properties – next to the Safford Regional Landfill, near the Safford Regional Airport, or near the Safford Wastewater Treatment Facility.   

“We’re planning on placing this on the outskirts to the north of the city,” Brimhall said. “Which would then allow us to provide our secondary substation to be placed between that and connections into our existing system, which would hook us to our loop in two different locations.”

Brimhall touted the opportunity available with the grants and that such a move would move Safford forward in a positive way for the environment and pocketbook. 

“We’d be producing our own power during those downtimes, and with the battery backup to support it we’d be able to really bring the city of Safford to the forefront of this renewable energy drive,” Brimhall said.

To qualify for the federal funds, the city has to submit a letter of intent by Sept. 29. Brimhall said the letter will be to partner with Veregy (an engineering and construction firm) in Phase 1 and will cost $12,500 to apply. 

Councilor Arnold Lopez questioned the need for the new solar array since the city had already committed to purchasing 10 MW of power through its Box Canyon solar array portfolio in Pinal County. 

Brimhall said while that would handle Safford’s peak need the city’s own solar array would be for future use and would also possibly be able to get the construction of a needed substation in the project as well. 

He said that the projected size of 10 MW could change after the letter of intent, which will determine a preliminary layout and analysis of the city’s power use, the interconnection location, and the need for an additional substation or not, a projected cost analysis and project narrative.

City Manager John Casella said while the project is short-term notice, “given the amount of discounts that are available for this project, if the substation was to be included you may end up paying for a substation and getting a solar field for nothing . . . If we at least go through the process of doing the preliminary analysis to determine if this project does in fact help us get a substation at a reduced cost and gives us power that we can then sell back to the grid it might be at least worth looking at Stage 1,” Casella said.  

If the federal government gives the green light for the funding and the city decides to move forward, Stage 2 would have a pre-application including design drawings, equipment layout and selection, a detailed system analysis, and the coordination and scope of work with the utility and subcontractors. 

An extended timeline of the project after the letter of intent includes the submission of the loan pre-application in December 2023, and a contract submission with Veregy in January 2024, with a tentative construction start date of July 2024 and a completion date of December 2025.