FAIRHOPE – Part of the Fairhope City Hall parking lot will be covered by a canopy of solar panels in one of the first programs of its kind in the state, utility officials said.
The Alabama Municipal Electric Authority will install a 24-kilowatt solar canopy in the northeast corner of the parking lot on Section Street. The canopy will at least 8 feet above the ground, allowing cars to park under the panels, Arthur Bishop of the AMEA said.
Bishop said the AMEA is installing solar farms in each of its member cities around Alabama. Most solar farms are set up on property away from city buildings. He said Fairhope’s canopy in the City Hall parking lot is different from other systems in the program.
“This will be the first solar canopy, so y’all will be unique of all of our members,” Bishop told City Council members on Monday, July 12.
Council President Jack Burrell said Fairhope officials and AMEA representatives decided to set up the panels in a more visible location.
“This is Fairhope’s opportunity to get the 50-kilowatt solar farm and I believe that the AMEA has gone above and beyond in trying to satisfy our requirements,” Burrell said. “A lot of these are in open fields and they’re just rows of solar power and we didn’t really want that.”
The solar canopy will be built by the AMEA, which will provide all materials, Bishop said. He said that in many cities, substation crews, linemen and other workers have volunteered to help in order to become familiar with the solar panels and generating system.
The AMEA will also maintain the canopy and insure it against damage from storms, drivers who hit the structure while parking or other causes, Bishop said.
“I come out once a year and go through all the maintenance of checking out everything, make sure there’s no problems,” he said. “Everything will be installed to NEC (National Electric Code) standards.”
The Fairhope facility will include 72 panels covering eight parking spots near the statue at the northeast corner of the City Hall parking lot. The panels will be set up facing south. The lower end of the canopy will be 8 feet above the ground, allowing space for cars to park beneath the panels. The upper end of the canopy will be 25 feet high, Bishop said.
He said two parking spots will be taken up by electrical transformers, but the other six will be available for parking.
The solar farm in the parking lot will generate about 36,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month.
Bishop said the AMEA has set up a solar farm in Foley on a parcel off Alabama 59. He said the farms around the state are used to educate students and the public about solar electricity.
“Everywhere else we have these ground-mounted with fences around them,” Bishop said. “We do tours and things like that with the children, with colleges. In Opelika, we’ve done it with Auburn.”
Bishop said the AMEA still plans to install another 90 panels at other sites in Fairhope to allow the city the full 50-kilowatts of solar generating capacity.