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Johnson City Commission to explore solar power

October 20th, 2011 12:00 pm by Gary B. Gray

The City Commission will consider tonight contracting with Florida-based ESA Renewables LLC to install and maintain solar generated power systems at 25 city facilities.
Johnson City officials want to use ground and rooftop photovoltaic systems that convert solar radiation into direct current electricity. And should it hook up contractually with the company, both entities could gain financially through incentives and electricity saved.
In late August, representatives from 11 interested firms attended a mandatory pre-proposal meeting at the Municipal & Safety Building at which Public Works Director Phil Pindzola reviewed the intent and scope of the project. A panel consisting of Pindzola; Jerry Brock, a retired management specialist; Mark Eads, Johnson City Power Board operations manager; and Bob Wilson, assistant city manager, reduced that number to four and eventually selected ESA.
The city will not finance anything, nor will it be the giver of incentives. However, a Tennessee Valley Authority program could play a major part in the partnership. If a deal is struck, the city and company would enter into a contract in which the city would act as the “host” and the company would secure the right to design, install, own and operate the systems.
Fire stations, schools, golf courses, parks and recreation centers, water treatment plants and the new Memorial Park Community Center are candidates.
“This is a recommendation to the City Commission to enter into a contract with the company,” Pindzola said Wednesday. “We’re getting an indication that we could use the (TVA) General Partners Program, which offers some good incentives. We’ve submitted applications for 25 city owned locations. Right now, four have been approved, and we’re hoping that all 25 will be approved.”
The equipment would have to be installed by April 17 for the city to take advantage of the incentives, he added.
Under the program, the company would get an up-front credit of roughly 30 percent of the cost of installing the systems. TVA also would pay it 12 cents per kilowatt hour for all electricity generated by the systems that exceed the average usage. In the circle of solar entrepreneurship, this is called “turning the meter back,” and this differential could be a significant due to the systems’ efficiency.
When the system generates more electricity than is being used, the excess automatically flows into the grid and is sold to TVA, thus the incentive for the firm that installs and maintains the new systems. Meanwhile, the city would be able to lock in current usage rates and receive a royalty consisting of a percentage of the savings. That amount would be negotiated with the company.
Photovoltaics basically is a method of generating electrical power by converting radiation from the sun into direct electric current.
Commissioners also will consider adoption of a newly developed annexation policy: the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission and City Commission Annexation Policy.
Adoption of the policy was deferred on Oct. 6, because several commissioners asked that portions of the document be rewritten for linguistic and legal clarity.
City Planner Angie Charles told commissioners that since 1985, the area owned by the city has more than doubled in size and that the policy is intended to be used by the city as a guidance tool.

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