Atwater council puts off solar decision

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comMarch 12, 2013 

ATWATER -- A group of solar projects that's expected to brighten the city's budget outlook and reduce its carbon footprint was once again postponed by the City Council during Monday's meeting.

The plan revolves around a power-purchase agreement with Conergy Projects, Inc. to build and maintain solar panels at several city sites, including City Hall, the Atwater Community Center and wells that consume a lot of energy.

The city will provide the land to the solar company, which will sell cheap energy back to Atwater. Proposals by Conergy show that the whole project could save the city about $13.5 million over the next 30 years.

However, because Mayor Joan Faul was absent during the meeting, the rest of the council decided to postpone the item until she returns.

Two weeks ago, the same item was tabled because City Attorney Tom Terpstra wasn't present to review the contract.

The city recently completed a 1.1-megawatt solar array at the new waste-water treatment plant. The group of projects being considered could generate about 1 megawatt of power.

The solar projects, along with the one at the waste-water treatment plant, haven't cost the city any out-of-pocket funds.

Atwater officials have pushed for solar projects for many reasons. Mainly, they're excited about the prospect of saving money without paying for any capital costs.

Those same officials have made it clear that these endeavors are a big deal for Atwater, which is trying to maneuver its way through a financial crisis.

Just last week, voters passed an initiative to increase Atwater's sales tax by a half-cent.

The move is expected to bring in an additional $1.3 million to $1.6 million a year specifically for public safety services, which have been curtailed by the city's budget tightening.

Monday's council meeting was the first public gathering of city officials since the tax was passed.

A few people spoke about the measure, including Mayor Pro Tem Craig Mooneyham, who orchestrated Monday's meeting in place of Faul.

"I would just like to thank them for their effort," Mooneyham said. "They were extremely committed to it, and I respect that."

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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