Sauk County Board gives final approval to much-debated solar deal.
After much consideration, Sauk County will move forward with a proposal to install solar arrays at two government buildings.
The Sauk County Board voted 23-6 Tuesday to approve a third-party financing arrangement with Eagle Point Energy.
In an email Thursday, Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin said the county’s consultant was working with the Iowa firm to finalize terms of the contract before it is signed.
Eagle Point Energy will buy and install a rooftop solar array on the county’s Baraboo law enforcement facility and a ground-mounted system near its Reedsburg nursing home.
The county will purchase energy produced by the panels from the contractor — presumably at rates cheaper than those of the power company — which supporters say will allow for annual savings.
The deal allows Eagle Point Energy to benefit from the county’s payments and from financial incentives only available to private entities that invest in solar.
The county will have the option to purchase the arrays after the seventh year and up through the 25th year of the contract, if it sees a financial benefit to doing so. The solar energy would then cost the county nothing, potentially reducing annual utility bills.
Supporters point to a consultant’s analysis that said the county stands to save more than $550,000 over 25 years. Opponents have raised doubts about that projection, and concerns about installing arrays at the nursing home because of uncertainties about that property’s future.
“The county, going forward, will save money,” said Supervisor Scott Von Asten of Baraboo, who chairs the committee that spearheaded the project. “The county, going forward, at least until the moment we decide to purchase (the solar arrays), if ever, is taking no risk. The risk is all on Eagle Point. The savings are ours.”
Tuesday night’s vote brought closure to a proposal that has received broad public support, but has been the subject of much political infighting among the board. The project has faced longstanding resistance from skeptical supervisors.
Two board members who have consistently opposed the deal made last-minute, unsuccessful pitches to alter the contract Tuesday night before ultimately voting to approve it.
Supervisor Henry Netzinger of Prairie du Sac said he conducted his own analysis, and wasn’t convinced that the 3 percent annual rate hikes built into the contract will keep solar energy costs lower than those of the utility company.
“If we go into this thing, I would like to see an adjustment made on tying it to something real,” Netzinger said.
The county’s consultant, Mark Hanson of Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, said his analysis incorporated energy rates going back to 2002. Those figures showed an average annual rate increase of 4.1 percent, he said, making it likely that solar energy will remain the cheaper option.
Another critic of the project, Supervisor Dennis Polivka of Spring Green, lobbied to untie the nursing home from the deal, and only move forward with an array on the law enforcement facility. He said he could not support the contract if it included systems at both buildings.
Despite their reservations, Polivka and Netzinger — who both face opposition in the April 3 election — were among the 23 supervisors who voted to approve the deal as it was proposed.
Supervisors and members of the public in favor of the project have said supporting a shift toward renewable energy is just as important as any potential savings to the county.
Board Chair Marty Krueger of Reedsburg, who has feuded with the committee that proposed the project, was among the six who voted against it. He explained his reasoning during a radio interview Wednesday morning with WRDB-AM/1400.
“I would have liked to have started, personally, with just doing the law enforcement center,” Krueger said. “But the board voted to do both, so I’m fine with that.”
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