MILTON — The city has started planning a new solar energy project to be built in conjunction with the new wastewater treatment plant.

The Solar Array Green Project, a planned 12-acre solar array, was approved by the City Council earlier this month to support the operation of the new plant, according to City Manager Randy Jorgenson.

Council approved moving forward with the application for a $1 million loan to help offset the cost of the solar array, Jorgenson said. The city does not anticipate taking out the loan for another two years, he said, and any interest on the loan would not begin until the execution of the loan agreement.

"This will only be pursued if we are successful (in completing) the wastewater project," Jorgenson said.

Councilwoman Sharon Rice said she was concerned that borrowing money for the solar project could leave the city in a bind if it faced a sudden crisis that required a loan.

"I am a little concerned we are overextending ourselves," Rice said.

According to Jorgensen, research indicated that the solar array would pay for itself in a few years. He said building the solar facility would reduce the city's operating costs by approximately $161,000 per year.

"It will only be forgiven because it is a green energy project," he said.

The loan is necessary, according to Jorgenson, because the city had already agreed to pay up to $6 million for the new wastewater plant. The city will contribute an additional $2 million for the new plant from impact fees. 

"I feel that at this point and time that would be the extent that the city could extend itself." Jorgenson said.

Mayor Heather Lindsay asked if waiting to make a commitment to the solar loan might jeopardize the city's opportunity to receive it.

Jorgenson said currently a number of other jurisdictions in the state have been identified as potential qualifiers for the loan.

Additional information, including final costs of the project, will be presented in future meetings.