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Good news eclipses solar vote

October 20th, 2011 8:57 pm by Gary B. Gray

Good news eclipses solar vote

When an item rolling up on the agenda at a City Commission meeting is deferred prior to any public discussion, it’s usually a good sign that something isn’t quite right and that maybe there’s been a misfire somewhere along the line.
But putting the kibosh, at least for a while, on discussion of Florida-based ESA Renewables’ proposal to install and maintain solar generated power systems at 17 city buildings was actually good news.
“We’ve actually had our application for 27 buildings approved for TVA’s Generation Partners Program,” said Public Works Director Phil Pindzola before entering the commission chambers Thursday. “It’s great news, but it will be pulled from the agenda. We’re going to have to have ESA re-evaluate and resubmit their proposal. It’s a very positive thing, and we need to get to work on it.”
Pindzola said time is of the essence, because the TVA program only allows for a six-month window for the projects to kick off from the time the contract is signed.
“That doesn’t mean from the time the contract is signed to when they start installation; it’s for completion of all buildings,” he said.
ESA had proposed putting 200 kilowatt systems on 17 sites, including six elementary schools, the Keystone Community Center, the Johnson City Public Library, the Municipal and Safety Building, as well as other schools and city buildings.
Now those numbers will change, including the amount of energy savings that can be converted to revenue under the TVA program. ESA’s current proposal reveals estimated annual revenues of more than $122,000 in each of the first 10 years of service should 17 sites be utilized. That amount will increase.
The city will not finance anything or offer the company any incentives. But if the deal is sealed, the city would act as the “host” and the company would secure the right to design, install, own and operate the systems.
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 them 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 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.
The company has constructed about 475 projects worldwide. Spain’s Energia Solar Aplicada, ESA’s parent company, designed and built the first “grid-tied” installation in Spain, focusing on solar, wind, thermal and biomass projects worldwide.
The City Commission also unanimously adopted 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.
Several commissioners asked that portions of the document be rewritten for linguistic and legal clarity.
The Municipal Annexation and Growth policy (Public Chapter 1101), which became law in 1998, allows local governments to “determine their own future” but does not impose a single, statewide solution. As a result, Johnson City’s Urban Growth Boundary was created and ratified in 2000 by the Washington, Carter and Sullivan County Coordinating Committees, the town of Jonesborough and the Johnson City commissioners.
City Planner Angie Charles told commissioners that since 1985, the area owned by the city has more than doubled in size and that the new policy is intended to be used by the city as a guidance tool.
Commissioners also unanimously accepted an invitation from East Tennessee Railway Authority’s board of directors for a representative from Johnson City to become an ETRA member. The ETRA also has invited Washington County to do the same.
The ETRA cited continuing operations between the entities and the periodic need for TDOT funding for track repair and maintenance associated with the rail line. Each governing body will appoint two voting members. Carter County and Elizabethton have been members since the board was formed in 1992.

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