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Sauk County Board to consider solar deal Tuesday

The Sauk County Board is slated to decide Tuesday whether to contract with a private company that would fund the installation of solar arrays at two government buildings.

After nearly three years of planning — and much political maneuvering — the Sauk County Board may make a final decision Tuesday on the installation of solar energy systems at two government buildings.

The last item on the board’s agenda is a proposal to enter a third-party solar financing deal with an Iowa firm, the only one that bid on the project.

Under terms of the deal, Eagle Point Energy would pay for the installation of two solar arrays: A $792,295 roof-mounted system on the county’s law enforcement facility in Baraboo, and a $395,010 ground system near the county’s nursing home in Reedsburg.

A consultant has helped the county secure $131,301 in state grants that can be applied to installation costs. That would allow the county to own a portion of the arrays immediately.

The county would have an opportunity to buy the systems after seven years, and up through the 25th year of the contract.

In the meantime, supporters say the county would save money immediately by purchasing solar energy from the third-party contractor at a rate cheaper than what is offered by the power company.

“It will put us in a positive light, as well as positive cash flow,” said Supervisor Becky Hovde of Baraboo, a member of the board’s Property and Insurance Committee, which has spearheaded the proposal.

The third-party contractor would benefit from monthly payments from the county, as well as financial incentives that only are available to private entities.

Although the solar project seems to have widespread public support, it has been marred in political conflict among competing factions of the board.

Supervisors who have resisted the effort, including Board Chair Marty Krueger of Reedsburg, have expressed concern that solar energy “doesn’t cash flow.”

The county’s consultant, Mark Hanson of Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, estimates the project would be cash flow positive from the start — with savings of $14,958 in the first year.

Hanson, who has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard and a doctorate in environmental studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, estimates the county stands to save $556,527 over 25 years.

That’s significantly less than the $1 million savings Hanson projected before the county solicited bids. However, the analysis assumes the county does not purchase the systems for 25 years.

“If utility rates rose at an average annual rate higher than 3 percent per year (we think this is rather likely), the county would be financially benefited by an earlier buy-out,” Hanson and another consultant, Niels Wolter of Madison Solar Consulting, wrote in a memo to county staff. “If the electric rates rose at only 3 percent, it could defer the buy-out to later or even never.”

Purchasing the systems would allow the county to generate its own power, thus saving more annually on utility bills.

The nursing home’s board of trustees selected a piece of nearby property that is not conducive to building to locate the solar array, but has opposed the project.

The county is in the midst of determining how to develop property adjacent to the Reedsburg facility.

The county’s consultants say Eagle Point Energy is a “well-established and highly qualified solar system provider,” and recently was selected to complete a solar project for the Northland Pines School District in Eagle River.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.