Lonedell: Not So Fast With Solar Power - The Missourian: Local News

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Lonedell: Not So Fast With Solar Power

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Posted: Saturday, November 9, 2013 5:00 am

The Lonedell R-XIV School District remains under a flashing yellow caution light as far as going green with renewable energy after board of education members decided to obtain more and better information before pulling the trigger on using solar energy to help power its school.

The school board called a special meeting on Wednesday night solely to discuss a solar energy proposal presented to it by Microgrid Solar.

The company is the same one currently working with the St. Clair R-XIII School District, the city of St. Clair and the Union R-XI School District, among others. With a Dec. 31 deadline in place to qualify for current Ameren Missouri solar rebates, Microgrid has been bustling around the area trying to get entities to sign a six-year lease that would provide 25-kilowatt solar arrays that potentially could save users thousands of dollars in utility costs.

Lonedell Superintendent Jen Ulrich said she was approached by Microgrid representative Troy Libbra last month. Libbra made a presentation during R-XIV’s October board meeting — the same night he pitched his company’s services to the city of St. Clair during a board of aldermen meeting.

School board members voted that night to move forward with reviewing a proposal from Microgrid and then called Wednesday’s special meeting specifically to discuss the lease agreement.

“I took a look at their lease, and I have some concerns,” Ulrich told board members. “There are inconsistencies in the lease language and things I don’t understand.

“At the end of the day, I don’t feel comfortable about saying yes to this.”

Specifically, the Lonedell school board decided Wednesday to invite other solar companies to make presentations during its next meeting on Nov. 18 and to table a decision on the Microgrid lease proposal.

“I’m interested in hearing more from other companies,” board President Kathy Reed said. “I’m not ready to move forward. If I had to vote on this (Microgrid proposal) tonight, I’d vote no.”

Proposal

Microgrid’s proposal to Lonedell is exactly the same as proposals pitched to St. Clair R-XIII, the city of St. Clair and the Union school district. It calls for a six-year lease term with five years of $2,000 annual payments. During the sixth year, the ownership of any 25-kilowatt arrays would be transferred to the school, as would all maintenance and cost responsibilities.

Over that time frame, cumulative savings are estimated to be more than $13,000. After 25 years, the expected life of the solar array, savings could top out at about $142,000.

The projections take into account a 5 percent annual utility escalator.

Microgrid guarantees a 95 percent efficiency rate for the length of the lease agreement and expects about an 80 percent efficiency rate of return for 20 years, Libbra said.

Microgrid’s lease agreement would take advantage of Ameren Missouri tax credits, which are now $2 per kilowatt, Libbra said.

He also has informed entities that Ameren is trying to “tick down” the kilowatt rebate rate, maybe to $1.50 per unit.

If that occurs, Libbra said, Microgrid would have to renegotiate the terms of its lease agreements.

A ruling by the Missouri Public Service Commission will determine what future Ameren tax credits will be. Libbra said the utility company believes it has satisfied its rebate quota this year, and is requesting the amount be lowered.

The application deadline to take advantage of the current tax credits is the end of the year.

“I just think it’s wise for us to get more information,” Ulrich said during Wednesday’s meeting. “I don’t want to miss the boat with this, but I have some real pause right now with this lease. Some of the language is unclear, and it’s all so new that I can’t get a solid gauge on it. There is some risk, and some of this makes me nervous.

“I feel like we’re being rushed into it. ... I don’t feel it’s cut and dried. I cannot give my recommendation at this point.”

Reed agreed.

“I feel like not all the ‘I’s’ are dotted and ‘T’s’ crossed,” she said of the lease. “I also feel rushed. I understand why we might want to do this, but I’m uncomfortable with what’s in front of us right now.”

There was consensus among board members that solar energy is an option they want to pursue for the district, “but we just don’t have that consensus to move forward with this proposal yet,” Reed said. “We need to make a smart decision, whether it’s in front of you right now or not.”

The St. Clair school district is scheduled to discuss its Microgrid solar lease proposal when it meets on Nov. 14.

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