WAPAKONETA — A new solar field near Wapakoneta will soon be generating five times as much electricity as the city’s current one, the city’s mayor announced Thursday.
Mayor Tom Stinebaugh, speaking at the Wapakoneta Chamber of Commerce’s “State of the City, County and Schools” event, said plans call for a 13.5 megawatt project on approximately 65 acres at the intersection of county Road 25A and Short Road.
Stinebaugh said the project will pay for itself within a year, with the city chipping in $500,00 to $750,000 for an upsized transformer for the city-owned electric utility.
“It’s a little bit of money we’re going to have to spend, but that money’s going to be recouped inside of one year because of the savings to our electric customers over a year could possibly be $1 million,” Stinebaugh said. “That’s coming from the fact that transmission charges will go down.”
Wapakoneta is served by a community-owned, not-for-profit public electric utility governed by the Wapakoneta city council. The city already had a 12,600-panel solar farm that opened in 2013, producing up to 3.75 million killowatt hours per year, or enough to power 375 houses per year.
Wapakoneta, which recently ranked No. 6 on the Realtor.com list of “Top Small Towns in the U.S.A.,” also plans to upgrade its water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants. Both of those shouldn’t cost users any additional money, though. The $17 million rebuild of the water treatment plant from a salt softening system to a lime softening system will result in additional capacity from 2.5 million gallons a day to 4 million gallons per day. Much of the costs will be paid for by regular usage fees from Pratt Industries, which uses nearly as much water as the rest of the city does each year.
Similarly, the city is looking ahead to increasing capacity at its water treatment plant, which the EPA requested once the city hit 80% capacity of its current system. That increase would also be paid for through regular fees on usage.
Aaron Rex, the superintendent of Wapakoneta schools, noted his district went fully in person for the entire 2020-21 school year, which only a third of Ohio’s schools did amid the coronavirus pandemic. He shared a letter from a parent about how a girl improved her reading abilities in ways she never could have if the school remained with virtual learning.
He said upgrades are on the way throughout the district’s buildings, from new smart panels for classroom walls in the high school now to updated smartboards in all buildings within two years. The middle school is updating its lighting to LED, with the elementary school next on the list for that to complete a lighting update project.
There are also improvements in the education, he said, with a “summer camp” — “don’t call it summer school, or no one will come,” Rex joked — on tap this year to help students bridge their learning gaps.
“We’re a school in a community that’s always pushing forward for progress,” Rex said.
Auglaize County Commissioner Doug Spencer acknowledged the coronavirus could’ve been difficult for governments, but strong sales taxes at record levels above $10 million helped through the difficult times. So far this year, sales tax revenues are up 6.7%, he said.
“That’s why I believe I can confidently state that this county is in a strong financial position,” Spencer said.
The commissioners have been part of several impressive projects, including a newly completed terminal at the Neil Armstrong Airport in New Knoxville, which Spencer called the “gateway of Auglaize County.”