The Sauk County Board will wait until the last possible moment to consider a deal with a private firm that wants to finance solar energy systems at two government buildings.
Citing a full meeting agenda and uncertainties about the property on which one array would be sited, supervisors voted 18-12 Tuesday night to postpone consideration of a third-party solar contract until next month.
The delay sets the stage for a final showdown during the board’s next meeting Jan. 16. The Iowa company that bid on the project has agreed to extend its offer until the day after that meeting.
Postponing consideration also may provide political cover for supervisors who don’t yet face opposition in the spring election, but who intend to vote against a proposal that has received broad public support. Campaign paperwork for county board candidates is due Jan. 2.
“If solar installation can save the county money, then why wouldn’t everyone on this board vote in favor of it?” said Carol Olson of Baraboo, one of four members of the public who spoke to the board Tuesday in favor of the proposal. “And if you don’t believe or accept the consultant’s analysis, then explain exactly where they’re wrong and make your numbers transparent and available to the public so that we can all better understand.”
The board’s Property and Insurance Committee voted unanimously Dec. 7 to recommend approval of a contract with Eagle Point Energy, forwarding the matter to the full board for consideration.
However, as the board was asked to adopt its agenda Tuesday night, Supervisors Andrea Lombard and Chuck Spencer, both of Baraboo, moved to postpone consideration of the contract. They cited a lengthy agenda and uncertainties about the suggested location of one of the arrays.
Under the proposed solar deal, Eagle Point Energy would finance the installation of a roof-mounted array on the county’s law enforcement facility in Baraboo, and a ground system next to the Reedsburg nursing home.
The county is not yet certain how property adjacent to the nursing home might be used in the future. The board Tuesday approved the creation of a special committee to study the matter and report to the board in March.
Terms of the solar deal would allow the county to purchase energy from the contractor’s systems at rates that presumably would be less expensive than those offered by power companies, allowing for annual savings. The contractor would benefit from the county’s payments, as well as financial incentives that only are available to private entities.
Consultants that helped set up the proposed deal say the county stands to save $556,527 over 25 years if it never purchases the systems for itself. The county would have the option to buy the systems beginning after the seventh year and up through the 25th year of the contract.
Before the county solicited bids, the consultants estimated savings at about $1 million over 25 years. Asked Tuesday about what changed, and why the county only received one bid, Mark Hanson of Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction cited uncertainties related to newly imposed solar tariffs and a federal tax code overhaul.
The solar project — which has been the subject of much political infighting among competing factions of the board — has been delayed several times. Hanson said the county likely could have received more favorable proposals if it had requested bids sooner.
“The terms that you’re facing now aren’t quite as favorable, but it’s still a huge win,” Hanson said. “So you would have been a slightly bigger winner had things been done at a slightly different timing.”