This story was updated Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at 6:18 p.m. with more information.
The city of Chattanooga will build a 10-acre solar farm to power a portion of the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment plant and will join a green|spaces program designed to help businesses, and now city government, be more sustainable.
The Wednesday announcement was the first geared toward addressing environmental concerns and energy use since Mayor Andy Berke promised to formulate plans and policies toward sustainability in last month's State of the City Address.
"These are important projects," Berke said Wednesday near the site of the future solar field. "They're good for our community; they're good for the earth."
The solar array will be in a field behind the plant's training center at the back of its Moccasin Bend facility. The solar project will be the city government's first and one of the first in the state for a water and wastewater treatment facility. The publicly owned EPB electric power provider and Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, which was the first in the country to be entirely solar powered, also have solar farms.
The plant's solar field will include about 10,000 panels and is budgeted to cost up to $5.25 million, including site work, but has yet to go to bid. The city's Public Works Department, which runs the plant, and contractors expect the project to save $200,000 a year, taking about 20 years to pay off economically.
"I don't think savings are the only thing we consider," Public Works Director Justin Holland said. "It's a sustainable, renewable energy, so it's a practical way for us to power a large portion of the treatment plant with a renewable energy source. The return on investment is a consideration, and we feel that between the return on the investment and the environmental benefits, it's a really solid project."
The solar array will generate three megawatts of power, which is about 8% of the total power used at the plant. The project is planned to go out for bid this fall and be online in the spring of 2020.
Project details were announced in tandem with an agreement to join the green|spaces green|light program.
The program was formed by the local nonprofit organization to help businesses reduce energy use and address environmental concerns. The idea is that no matter what businesses are doing, they can always be better, according to program director Kelley Cureton.
There are about 45 local businesses involved in the program, ranging in size from EPB and the city of Chattanooga to The Strand Hair Salon on Chestnut Street and other small businesses.
"For green|spaces, the big picture is working toward a thriving sustainable community," executive director Michael Walton said. "To realize that, it requires a business culture of sustainability."
The project focuses on helping businesses improve in eight key areas: energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste reduction and recycling, transportation, green cleaning, environmental literacy, landscaping and staff wellness.
Registration costs fluctuate based on the size of the businesses and their needs. The city paid $5,000 to join the project.
The city has undertaken other energy projects in recent years. It overhauled the Chattanooga Public Library by adding new lighting, heating and air conditioning to cut its electricity consumption by more than 40%.
City Hall also became more energy efficient. Public Works installed a building automation system for its lights. The department is also installing LED lights in city-owned buildings.
"It's important to remember that while we're on a river, we're not on an island," Berke said. "We know that our actions and the actions of others affect us."