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August 28, 2014

Atwater council discusses solar project amendment

A controversial power purchase agreement with a solar company was the topic of discussion at an Atwater City Council meeting this week, just a few weeks after the council rejected a proposal to expand the project.

A controversial power purchase agreement with a solar company was the topic of discussion at a City Council meeting this week, just a few weeks after the council rejected a proposal to expand the project.

The Conergy solar project, first approved by the council in July 2013, will install solar panels on a water well at 380 Commerce Ave., as well as City Hall and the community center, both on Bellevue Road. On Monday, the council approved an amendment to the agreement, clarifying that the city will purchase energy from Conergy, rather than lease the solar equipment.

The amendment was approved unanimously Monday with little discussion, but earlier this month the council sparred over an expansion of the solar project. The controversial expansion failed in a majority vote.

The expansion called for the city leasing private land to expand the solar operation by an acre. The city would have paid $10,000 a year to lease the private land on either side of one of the city’s water wells owned by James and Kathleen Casey for the next 20 years.

Solar panels would then be installed on the Caseys’ land to add an extra megawatt to the power grid.

However, some council members said the risks associated with the expansion outweighed its benefits. If the water well went offline, the city would still be responsible for purchasing power generated from the facility or paying for termination fees if the solar facility was removed from the property.

The city could move the power facility to another site, but City Attorney Tom Terpstra said the city would not recoup all of its costs.

“Staff’s concern is with the possibility or potential for the well to be shut down anytime during the 20-year life of this project,” Terpstra said during the Aug. 11 council meeting. “The addition of the Casey property represents a significant risk and is probably not counterbalanced by the potential rewards.”

A Conergy representative made the case for the solar expansion, saying it would save the city millions of dollars in the future. But the city would still be gambling on whether the well would last.

“What we’re talking about here is doomsday scenario – if the well goes down – and we’re trying to predict the future. Will it happen, will it not?” said David Vincent of Conergy. “In 20 years, if the well never goes down, people are going to look back at this and go, ‘Why on Earth didn’t they move forward with this?’ If the well goes down next year, then we’re in the doomsday scenario and we’re in the panic.”

Despite the expansion proposal failing, Conergy has begun work on the original solar project plans, including soliciting investors and detailing engineering plans, according to city documents.

 

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