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Here come the solar panels

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If all goes as planned, Yellow Springs will be on the road to producing solar energy by the end of this year, following a significant Village Council vote at its May 2 meeting.

“This is the most exciting opportunity to come our way in a long time,” said Karen Wintrow about the proposed solar farm project with SolarVision. “It makes a statement, and says something about Yellow Springs.”

That the solar farm action casts the village as a forward-thinking community concerned about environmental sustainability also appealed to Lori Askeland.

“I see this as laying the groundwork for framing ourselves as a village thinking of the long-term health of the planet,” she said.

Council voted unanimously on the second and final reading of an ordinance to allow Village Manager Mark Cundiff and Village Solicitor John Chambers to enter into a contract with SolarVision for the project, as long as a few areas of concern are worked out. SolarVision representative Mike Dickman, who attended the meeting, indicated that his company will be amenable to the Village’s requests.

The solar project, which would produce 2.5 megawatts of solar energy, would locate solar panels on 15 acres of the 43-acre Village-owned Glass Farm for a period of 20 years. The Village agrees to purchase solar energy from the company for the first 10 years at $.07 per kilowatt hour, which is at or below current market price. SolarVision agrees to pay the Village an upfront cost of $500,000 for the opportunity to use the land for 20 years. The company has 240 days to close the contract.

Solicitor Chambers emphasized that SolarVision, which is working in collaboration with MeLink and Yellow Springs Renewable Energy, still has to find funding for the project, so the May 2 vote was not a guarantee that the solar project will move ahead.

However, Chambers also said that while he was initially skeptical of the project due to pressure to move quickly, he now recommends that Yellow Springs enter into the contract.

“From a lawyer’s perspective, this looks like a deal that will work, with a little help from the company,” Chambers said.

The companies involved approached Council in February with the solar farm proposal, requesting that a decision be made by May so that the companies could benefit from federal tax credits that require a solar project to have begun by the end of this year. While Council members initially expressed enthusiasm for adding solar to the Village energy portfolio, they wrestled with concerns that the project’s timeline undermined adequate due diligence, and then backed away.

But Council turned around last month in response to enthusiastic support for solar energy from villagers, along with a statement of support for the project from an energy specialist from the Dayton Development Coalition.

In response to a concern from Sue Abendroth at Monday’s meeting that due diligence was being neglected, Chambers disagreed, saying that they had covered all necessary steps, only on a speeded-up timeline.

“I made this my first priority,” Chambers said, after Council indicated its desire to move ahead quickly.

The Village was able to save time because it “piggy-backed” on a solar contract currently being developed by the City of Wapakoneta, Chambers said, stating that Yellow Springs’ contract with SolarVision, while not exactly the same as Wapakoneta’s, was close enough to enable the village to make use of the language used. Quick action was also possible because Courtney and Associates, the Village’s electrical consultants, were already “well down the road” with contracts for solar power for other municipalities, and thus the consultant brought that expertise to the table.

One aspect of Village due diligence was requesting a loadflow study that analyzed how the solar farm would fit with the Village’s existing electrical system. In an initial report to Council Monday night, Mike Kiser of MK Power Solutions, who performed that study, stated that he found no major problems or concerns, although an upgrade of about $80,000 would be necessary for proper connections.

SolarVision representative Dickman said that the company would pay for that upgrade.

Chamber’s major concern before the contract can be signed is that SolarVision needs to identify a date by which the project will actually begin. That date could be a year or two in the future, Chambers said, but as the contract now reads, the company could hold up use of the Glass Farm land for an indefinite length of time.

In response, Dickman said SolarVision would be amenable to setting a deadline date for the project to begin.

In response to questions, Chambers said there appears no possibility that the Village would lose the $500,000 it will receive as a lease payment for the project’s 20-year use of the land. Even if SolarVision defaults or goes bankrupt, that money will exchange hands when the contract is signed and will be the Village’s to use.

Wintrow suggested that a “significant percentage” of that $500,000 be used for economic development efforts, since Council has spoken of the solar project, and green energy efforts in general, as an economic driver. Hempfling stated that she would like to use the funds in response to goals raised during the visioning process, which would include economic development.

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