City to move ahead with solar plans

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – City officials have decided to move forward with a plan to put solar panels on nine different city facilities after a lengthy discussion Tuesday night.

The move is part of an agreement with Red Lion out of Norwalk, Iowa and will not cost the city any upfront costs.

The city would enter into a 30-year agreement with the solar company, and would buy energy produced by the solar panels from Red Lion, while still buying any additional power needed from the city’s current utility provider, Alliant Energy.

Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker cautioned the city on moving too fast into the agreement, saying that Alliant will sometimes increase rates for those who switch to solar energy.

BOWKER

“I’m all about green energy, solar energy, wind energy, but I think we should take a close look at this before moving forward,” she said.

Bowker said she has solar panels and pays a higher rate for electricity with Alliant, but wouldn’t comment on what that rate was.

Terry Dvorak, CEO of Red Lion, was at the meeting virtually from his vehicle and said Alliant can’t raise rates for those that have solar without going through the Iowa Utilities Board. He said any rate increases they impose would have to be imposed for everyone with solar at the same rate and he didn’t anticipate that happening with the city.

“So you can guarantee us that Alliant won’t be raising the rates for the electricity we purchase from them?” Bowker asked.

Dvorak said he couldn’t guarantee anything, but he has many other customers and none have had their rates increased.

Bowker also asked if snow cover and winter climates would hinder the ability to generate power and Dvorak said it would, but then he wouldn’t be selling any power to the city. He could only sell power that the cells produce.

SCHULZ

Councilman Tom Schulz asked if City Manager David Varley had checked with any other potential vendors for the solar service. Varley said he had not and that Red Lion had approached the city several years ago about the possibility of entering into an agreement with the city.

The agreement could save the city close to $2 million over three decades if the city were to execute a purchase agreement at 15 years.

Red Lion would hire Mohrfeld Solar out of Fort Madison to install the solar cells at City Hall, at the Water Tower, Ortho Way Sewer Booster, Riverview Drive Sewer Booster, Avenue G Water Booster, Sheriff Station Water booster, the Fort Madison Airport Office, Fort Madison Public Library, and at Shopton Park.

ANDREWS

City Councilman Rusty Andrews, serving as Mayor Pro Tem in Mayor Matt Mohrfeld’s absence, said he worked for Michael Mohrfeld, who owns Mohrfeld Solar, but didn’t abstain from the vote and voted in favor of the move.

Red Lion also has an agreement with Lee County for its solar panels. Schulz said he had data from the county and said those officials are very happy with the success of the program and the savings being realized.

Red Lion also takes advantage of solar tax credits for a period of six years in addition to the revenues generated off the solar energy generation of the cells.

Initial savings to the city would be about $20,000 per year. Dvorak said Red Lion’s rates would go up about 2.5% per year, however Alliant is averaging closer to 4% per year, he said.

The measure passed 5-0.

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