Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

August 29, 2012

Too many questions for solar

Motion to approve 20-year lease agreement fails 7-2

CROSSVILLE — A motion to approve a 20-year solar leasing project with Earth-Right Energy failed in a 7-2 vote of the Cumberland County Board of Education.

Board members expressed concern about where solar systems would be placed, using a company not based in Cumberland County and whether a request for proposals should be issued or not.

David Bowman, 7th District representative, said he had examined photos detailing where solar systems would be placed and found them unsuitable for such a long-term project.

"There are several ground sites marked where sewer lines are at," Bowman told the board. "If anything happened in 20 years with those lines, we'd have to move them."

The proposal would have leased space at 15 sites owned by the school system, with the school system receiving a flat fee rent payment each year and a share of possible revenue in the event of annual energy increases. The Earth-Right Energy proposal had a possible 20-year revenue of more than $611,000 for the school system, assuming a 3 percent annual increase in energy costs.

The proposal was recommended by the building and grounds committee and did not require a second to move into discussion and vote by the full board.

Possible ground sites marked included the band practice area at CCHS; on top of sewer lines at CCHS, Homestead and North Cumberland; in the area of the septic system at Pine View and areas used for playgrounds and sports fields.

"That's why I wanted the committee to go to the schools and see what they actually have planned for these areas," Bowman said.

Roofs were also not a popular choice for locating the systems due to the age of many of the roofs and ongoing roofing issues.

Steve Smith, maintenance supervisor, said, "I don't want to see anything put on any of our schools' roofs."

He said canopies, a more expensive option, would be beneficial to the schools, and have the solar panels up and out of the way.

Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, agreed, saying, "I'm opposed to it in any form or fashion. I don't believe we need it."

His concerns included using space that would likely be needed for future growth of the schools over the next 20 years and said the revenue was not a lot when considering the possible drawbacks.

"We're going to make very little money on this, but we're taking a chance on damaging a lot and taking up space we're going to need," Blalock said.

He also noted the investors were not local investors.

"The people investing all the money would take the profit and leave town," he said.

He suggested the school system consider taking one or two schools at a time and purchasing systems itself. That way the system would reap the rewards.

Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said he'd received numerous calls on the issue, with the biggest concern being working with a local business.

Earth-Right Energy is based in Knoxville, while TerraShares, a Morristown company, has partnered with Simple Energy Works of Crossville to propose a similar solar program for the system. The TerraShares proposal offered a larger flat fee for the lease of each solar location, but did not offer an option for increased revenue from energy cost increases.

Bowman said, "Whether its a local business or from Canada, the placement of these systems is not going to work at all. If we do this, we're going to be hurting."

Blalock questioned if the proposal should be sent for competitive bids or if a formal request for proposals should be issued for all companies performing this type of work. Board Attorney Earl Patton said he would research the law regarding that and report back at a future meeting.

The motion failed with Blalock, Bowman, Janeway, 6th District Representative Victor Randolph, 3rd District Representative Sandy Brewer, 5th District Representative Gordon Davis and 9th District Representative Dan Schlafer, voting no. Voting in favor were Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, and Roger Hyder, 4th District representative.

Brewer also asked the board to consider placing an item on the agenda in September to hire a contractor to inspect the Cumberland County High School stadium.

"I'm ashamed of the condition the stadium is in," Brewer said. "It's deteriorating. We need it looked at by an expert. If it's fixable and we can use it for another 25 or 30 years, let's fix it. If it's a bottomless pit, we need to flatten it and put something there we can use."

Bowman said, "They don't make them like that anymore. If we can get another 30 or 40 years out of it, we need to do that."

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