FAIRHOPE, Ala. (WKRG) – If you’ve traveled Section Street near city hall in Fairhope lately, you’ve probably noticed a lot of solar panels in the parking lot and wondered what it’s all about.

“It sends a message to people who are moving here or people who are building homes that were open to renewable energy, we’re open to solar energy,” said Fairhope Mayor Sherry Sullivan.

A new research project between the City of Fairhope and the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority is now turned on. A ribbon cutting was held Wednesday morning. Residents and visitors who want to charge their electric vehicles can use new charging stations, but that’s just the start.

“Does the sun shine differently in Anniston than it does in Fairhope? Probably. The further south you go possibly the better the sun shines,” said Fred Clark, Jr. with the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority.

Fairhope is one of 11 Alabama communities taking part in this research project, costing roughly $1 million. The non-profit agency is planning to study the results they believe these solar panels can deliver, and while they aren’t meant to power homes or lower your electric bill AMEA says the research could have beneficial effects in the years to come.

“The data we receive from these projects will only benefit our knowledge of what takes place and what energy is produced,” he added.

The panels are now part of the distribution grid, but Mayor Sullivan agrees it’s not enough solar power to impact the city right away. She tells us the city plans to trade out a couple of their current vehicles in the fleet from time to time, switching over to electric.

“And then possibly switching over to something, you know even more trucks, some of the larger vehicles,” she said.