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A committee will solicit engineers to examine the potential payoff of using solar panels to generate power at the Sauk County jail.

During a meeting Tuesday, the Sauk County Board’s Property and Insurance Committee heard from Kurt Reinhold of Solar Connections LLC, who helped establish a public/private partnership that allowed the City of Monona to capitalize on solar tax credits in 2013.

Reinhold proposed that he conduct an analysis of the Sauk County Law Enforcement Center’s power use and determine whether a similar deal, which would make use of a federal tax incentive program, could benefit the county.

The Solar Investment Tax Credit, which was created in 2008, allows a company that installs, develops or finances a solar project to reduce its taxes by 30 percent of its investment.

Reinhold said if his jail energy audit determines that it makes sense to move forward, he would work with his partner company, E3 Coalition, to bring a financial package proposal to the county. The proposal would include any number of energy efficiency projects, and recommend the use of various incentive programs.

Reinhold said he and his partners would “itemize where we can get those savings at the lowest cost and wrap it into a solar investment.”

Under the solar deal, the county would lease the equipment that is installed for less money than it saves on utility bills, according to a written proposal from E3 Coalition President Jim Olson. The county would then have the option of purchasing the equipment at a depreciated cost after the fifth tax year.

After questioning Reinhold during Tuesday’s meeting, Sauk County Corporation Counsel Todd Liebman advised committee members to seek out a qualified third-party contractor other than Reinhold to conduct the analysis.

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“This way the county gets completely neutral advice to see if this is beneficial,” Liebman said.

Because Reinhold would benefit financially from the project moving forward, the objectivity of his initial analysis and subsequent recommendation could be called into question.

In 2009, several supervisors advocated the use of solar panels to heat water at the 145,000-square-foot Law Enforcement Center. That proposal fell through. According to Sauk County budget documents, utility expenses for the Law Enforcement Center are expected to total roughly $360,000 this year.

Committee members also expressed interest in conducting a similar analysis on the Sauk County Highway Department building in West Baraboo.

“I’m not sure why we wouldn’t drill down on both of those sites right now to see if they work, instead of just doing one,” said Supervisor Scott Von Asten of Baraboo.

The current project would have to be completed by the end of 2016 in order to take advantage of the solar tax incentive program before the credit drops to 10 percent.

Committee members asked Liebman and Tim Stieve, the county’s facilities manager, to solicit bids from qualified engineers to conduct the analysis.

Baraboo News Republic reporter