Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018

Agri to install solar array

By First solar project in Midwest to incorporate Tesla battery storage | Aug 02, 2018
Courtesy of: IDEAL ENERGY This is an artist’s rendering of the solar array that Agri-Industrial Plastics plans to install on its south-facing roof.

Agri-Industrial Plastics in Fairfield plans to start construction on a 517 kilowatt solar array.

The company is also installing a 424-kilowatt Tesla battery system, making it the first solar project in the Midwest to incorporate this type of battery technology.

Company president Lori Schaefer-Weaton said the decision to build a solar array was motivated by Agri’s high utility costs. Agri is a leading manufacturer of blow molded plastic parts, an energy-intensive operation.

“We run 27 lines 24 hours a day,” Schaefer-Weaton said. “These are huge utility bills.”

Schaefer-Weaton also sees benefits beyond the bottom line. She expects the array to attract forward-thinking employees. The state-of-the-art solar project will fit in at AIP’s facility, which uses robotic automation, sophisticated engineering techniques, and features a clean and modern work environment. The array will also demonstrate to AIP’s customers – many of which have green initiatives of their own – that AIP is planning for the long-term.

“We think the payback will be there,” Schaefer-Weaton said. “Some of it will be in things we can measure really easily, like our utility bill. Some will be strategic, longer term, by building excitement around working at Agri-Industrial Plastics and being part of something bigger.”


Peak shaving

Tesla Powerpack, which is a battery energy storage system designed for commercial and utility-scale customers, will allow AIP to “peak shave.” Peak shaving cuts expensive demand charges by reducing electricity consumption during high times such as hot summer days. Demand charges can increase a customer’s electrical costs for the entire year and account for up to 30 percent to 70 percent of a customer’s utility bill.

Battery energy storage systems automatically detect when power usage exceeds a pre-determined threshold and switch from the grid or solar panels to batteries until the additional demand is over. When demand goes back down the batteries recharge.

Because AIP runs three shifts, its power usage is high at night when solar arrays are not producing. Battery energy storage systems provide a solution, allowing AIP to peak shave at any time, day or night.


Ideal Energy

Ideal Energy, one of Iowa’s leading solar energy firms, will design and build the array and install the Tesla Powerpack system. Ideal Energy installed the first solar plus storage system in the state and has been a pioneer in the battery energy storage field in the Midwest.

The array, which will be built on the roof of AIP’s 340,000-square foot facility on 22nd Street, will save the company an average of $42,477 per year and prevent 9,377 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere over the next 25 years – equivalent to over 10 million pounds of coal.

“I would consider it a strategic investment for our future,” Schaefer-Weaton said. “We’re in it for the long haul. We’re in it for our customers, we’re in it for our employees, we’re in it for our community of Fairfield.”


Busy season

AIP’s director of operations Rob Pettit said the company’s greatest energy demand is highest during its busy season from January through June. That’s when the company is running as many machines as it can, six-days per week. The seasons, on the other hand, don’t impact the building’s energy usage much.

“Our machines run at 400 degrees, so heating it in the winter is no big deal, and we don’t cool it in the summer,” he said.

Ideal Energy founder Troy Van Beek said the reason to combine solar array with a battery is that the array only produces when the sun shines. He said the battery saves the power for later and can shave off spikes in electric usage that cost so much money.

“We found that Tesla gave us the best return, and are pleased to work with them,” Van Beek said. “And we’re pleased it’s premiering here as the first in the Midwest.”

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