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Solar project hangs on, but barely

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At its March 21 meeting Village Council came close to backing away from a proposed solar farm project due to feeling pressure to act too quickly. But in the end, Council members agreed to try to gather information in upcoming weeks to see if the project can move forward.

“It’s an exciting project, but a huge decision to make on such short time,” Karen Wintrow said, expressing her discomfort with the project deadline. “We don’t have the time to do due diligence.”

Council will discuss the item again at its April 4 meeting.

The project’s backers, SolarVision of Westerville, MeLink of Milford and Yellow Springs Renewable Energy, requested at an earlier meeting that Council act as soon as possible so they could begin the project by May 1 and complete it in December, in order to reap federal tax credits that will expire at the end of this year.

Council, with input from villagers and the project’s backers, discussed the proposal for about an hour at the March 21 meeting. In the end, Council decided to give the solar farm project more time and requested that Village Manager Mark Cundiff review similar projects in Ohio; prepare to hire a consultant to review the project’s finances and technical aspects; and contact the representative of the Fogg Farm owner to inquire about the potential cost of that land and placement of the project on that space. Council will revisit the proposal at its April 18 meeting.

In an interview this week, Cundiff said that Courtney Associates, of Findlay, a firm that has previously consulted on Village electrical needs, was hired at a fee of between $1,500 and $2,000.

Council received the solar farm request about a month ago. The companies originally proposed that the solar project — to be designed by Melink, financed, owned and maintained by SolarVision, with the solar panels installed by YSRE — would produce 5 megawatts of energy, which would require 75,000 solar panels on 30 acres. However, since then AMP, Yellow Springs’ municipal electric supplier, advised that the Village’s portfolio could only handle 2 megawatts, requiring a smaller space of only about 12 acres.

The project included the agreement that the Village purchase or provide the land, and agree to a 20-year power-purchase agreement with the company. In return, the Village would receive an upfront payment of $200,000 for each megawatt of power, which Council members could use to purchase the land for the farm if the proposed site was not Village-owned.

According to the preliminary proposal, the electric rate for the first 10 years of the project would be $.07 per kilowatt hour.

The backers said they hoped to begin fundraising and designing equipment in May, order equipment by August and install in early fall, in order to have the project completed by the end of the year.

But all Council members, along with energy expert Pat Murphy of the Energy Board, stated their discomfort with moving so fast.

However, after being urged to move ahead by several villagers and the project’s backers, Council agreed to find a consultant to act quickly to evaluate the proposal’s technical and financial components. They also agreed to narrow the scope of the decision by only considering the Fogg Farm as a potential site. In a written memo to Council, Cundiff described the pros and cons of the three potential sites being considered — the Fogg Farm, the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, and the Village-owned Glass Farm. Both the Fogg Farm and CBE had as pros their location at the gateway of the village, while the Glass Farm offered the advantage of being Village-owned, and therefore of no cost to purchase. However, all Council members stated their discomfort with using Village-owned land for the project, since that land would not be available for other use for a minimum of 20 years.

In other Council business:

• Council passed the first reading of an ordinance authorizing payment for expenses resulting from the recent ice and wind storm damage. The amount, $25,861, was necessary to pay the crews of several area towns that sent electrical workers to help restore Village power. The Village did not have to pay for help from other municipalities from damage incurred by Hurricane Ike a few years ago since President Obama declared the hurricane a disaster, so that FEMA funds were available for clean-up efforts. However, Ohio Governor John Kasich did not declare the ice storm a disaster, so FEMA funds cannot be used, Cundiff said.

• Environmental Commission member Doug Bailey gave an update on the Village community gardens, which are located on Bill Duncan Park, the Glass Farm and Fair Acres. In their second year, these community gardens have been a success, Bailey said, and these three gardens are already filled up with village gardeners. However, if more villagers indicate interest, a fourth garden area, on Corry Street, could be opened, although that garden’s soil needs to be tested, he said.

• Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, April 4, at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers.

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