Savings, reputation and pioneering – three reasons for a municipality to generate solar power

Savings, reputation and pioneering – three reasons for a municipality to generate solar power

The Finnish sun capital Hanko challenges other municipalities to produce solar power. With successful solar power projects, the city has taken a big leap towards carbon neutrality. Hanko aims to increase self-sufficiency and reduce energy costs, as well as to spread the solar gospel.

The Hanko solar power project started about 1.5 years ago. Today, there are solar power stations on the roofs of 12 buildings, with a combined capacity of 700 kilowatts. The buildings that have newly-installed solar power stations on their roofs include schools, day care centres and the town hall.

Behind it all is Mayor Denis Strandell, who has actively promoted solar power.

"A project like this requires someone who is passionate and maps out the opportunities and convinces the decision makers. It can be a politician or a municipal employee – the key is genuine interest in the project,” says Strandell.

1. Millions to be saved with zero investment

It was easy for Strandell to convince the decision makers, because efficient financing models were found for the solar power stations. Some of the power stations were implemented with a leasing agreement through Finnish Environment Institute SYKE joint procurement, and the city of Hanko pays for them annually the same amount it would otherwise pay for electricity. After 12 years, the ownership of the power stations will be transferred to the city and the power stations continue to generate free electricity for more than 20 years.

The remaining nine power stations were implemented in cooperation with Forus Oy and the Finnish panel manufacturer Valoe. Hanko undertakes to purchase the electricity generated by the power stations from these companies until the purchase price of the panels has been covered. The lifetime of the Finnish panels is at least 40 years, so they will generate free electricity for a long time after the repayment period.

Solar power is profitable all year round

The city of Hanko will thus not invest a cent, but will save about EUR 5 million in energy costs over the lifetime of the solar power stations. 
"The most important thing is to calculate the minimum cost of electricity for a property and to design the solar power station accordingly," Strandell says as his recommendation.

Even if there are occasionally fewer activities in some of the city's properties, electricity is still consumed. For example, schools can use solar power also in the summer, with air conditioning, refrigeration equipment and servers running.

2. Impact on climate change and image benefits

Although municipalities must take responsibility for combating climate change, green values are not enough to convince decision makers of the benefits of solar power.

"Municipalities already have more than 500 statutory responsibilities, which means that solar power would be at the bottom of a very long list if the project had to compete with other investments. Nothing would happen on that front,” says Denis Strandell.

However, Strandell was surprised by the consensus among the political parties, which means that there is political will to promote green values in Hanko. This may be due to the fact that Hanko lies by the Baltic Sea where the natural environment reminds residents of climate change every day.

From words to deeds – a truly sunny brand

The sun has always had a strong presence in the imagery associated with Hanko. Hanko is beach, sea and sails – it's the sunniest summer city in Finland. But slogans are no longer enough for a credible brand – it's time to take action.

"We have harnessed the sun, which brings enormous added value to our brand. It also supports other activities; for example, the local tourism companies are increasingly investing in sustainable tourism,” Strandell says with a smile.

3. Public sector as a pioneer

The tip of the Hanko peninsula boasts four wind turbines. Strandell would also be willing to increase wind power, but it would require millions in investments and a long permit process.

"The solar power station permit process takes a couple of months – whereas the wind turbine building permit easily takes 10 years. The time from decision to action is far too long,” says Strandell.

Tiia Selonen, Development Project Manager at Caruna, would like municipalities to waive the action permit procedure for installations other than those that significantly affect the cityscape or the environment, in order to make the purchase of solar power stations even faster.

Schools benefit from solar power

Solar power production has been proven to spread, and this trend is also evident in companies in Hanko. The Helkama bike factory already has its own solar power station, and many other companies are currently making calculations to start their own solar power production. The goal is also to make ordinary Hanko residents small-scale producers of solar power.

"The public sector is seldom renowned for being a pioneer, but in solar power, we can also pave the way for our residents," Strandell says.'

This even applies to the youngest of the municipality. The schools that have roof-mounted panels have installed displays to show students how much energy their panels produce and how the energy is used. For these students, the sun is not just something needed for a day on the beach, it has a much wider significance.

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