Solar deal affirmed amid blowups
After the first in a series of blowups at Monday night’s Marion City Council meeting, members voted unanimously to restore Spur Ridge Vet Hospital’s solar power contract to its original terms and to begin calculating the clinic’s bills more accurately.
Appearing before the council for a second consecutive meeting, owner Brendan Kraus stepped members through months of data he had tabulated indicating how his clinic had not been receiving credit for electricity its solar panels generated in excess of city electricity the clinic used.
Two weeks earlier, mayor David Mayfield and administrator Brogan Jones had questioned whether Spur Ridge should continue to be covered by its original agreement or should be forced to switch to a less-generous solar billing system the city recently adopted.
City staff could not find evidence of a required connection fee being paid by Spur Ridge. The city’s copy of a contract signed by Kraus had not been signed by a city official. Meeting minutes noting its approval could not be found.
Scant hours after that meeting, however, Kraus located a canceled check documenting the original payment, which he explained both at the meeting two weeks ago and Monday night had been made on his behalf by a firm installing the solar array.
Monday night, city officials admitted that they had found the check after looking for it under the installer’s name.
They also conceded that a city official, Clayton Garnica, had signed a document waiving a further installation fee after upgrades to Spur Ridge’s system.
In an elaborate presentation to the council, Kraus demonstrated how the original billing system had been used but only partially implemented. Problems became worse after the city changed metering systems.
“The guy who made the meter told us how to do it wrong,” Jones explained.
Essentially, monthly usage was not being calculated. Instead, charges and payments were based on total readings dating back to installation of the meter.
Jones and Mayfield had argued two weeks ago that Kraus’s contract might be insufficient and that Spur Ridge should be required to switch to a different reimbursement system recently adopted by the city.
The original system, called net metering, billed Spur Ridge at retail rates for power consumed in excess of what solar panels generated and paid Kraus at the city’s much lower average cost for electricity for power the panels generated in excess of what the clinic used.
The city’s new billing system would have changed this so that Kraus would pay retail rates for all electricity used, regardless of how it was generated, and the city would pay Kraus at wholesale for all power created by his solar array.
Kraus showed council members how this sort of billing, called parallel production, would greatly reduce his incentive for providing solar power.
Essentially, electricity generated by solar cells but used by the clinic no longer would be free but rather would be billed at the difference between the city’s retail sales rate and its wholesale purchase rate.
This could amount to several hundred dollars monthly, Kraus said, in addition to the smaller amounts he lost because credits for excess generation never were carried over.
“It’s not very friendly, from my perspective, if the state wants to move more into alternative energy,” Kraus said.
Asked why he hadn’t complained about the lack of carry-over credits until last fall, Kraus replied: “Shame on me, I guess. I assumed it was handled correctly.”
Council member Ruth Herbel moved to accept the original Spur Ridge contract as valid, but colleague Zach Collett wasn’t satisfied with her motion after Mayfield called for a vote on it.
“Hold on!” Collett said, his voice rising. “We don’t have any clarification of what we’re doing here. It doesn’t matter how long we’re sitting here. We’ve got to have clarification on this.”
“Lower your voice,” Mayfield interjected.
“Don’t slam me then when I say, no, I’m not ready!” Collett replied in an even louder voice. “You called for the question.”
“Nobody was saying anything,” Mayfield answered.
“I sat here and said we need more clarification,” Collett shot back.
“OK,” Mayfield said, “then ask your question.”
“I said this a minute ago,” Collett went on. “I think we need to revise this plan.”
“OK,” Mayfield replied. “We have a motion on the floor.”
Herbel then worked with Collett to inject language he would like about retroactively correcting Spur Ridge’s billings, starting in January, in addition to preserving the clinic’s net metering billing.
“It seems like a lot of people didn’t do what they should have done, and that’s not all his fault,” council member Jerry Kline said. “I’m tired of messing with this. He’s a local business, and we need to support him. It’s that simple. ”
After several minutes of additional discussion, council members unanimously approved the revised motion.
However, another blowup occurred at the end of the meeting after Mayfield angrily demanded that Herbel defend comments she made two weeks ago about the city losing payments and documents such as those that could not initially be found in discussions about Spur Ridge.
“You stated in the paper that the city had lost agreements, payments, or other documents,” Mayfield told Herbel. “What documents have we lost? What payments have we lost? I want to know what those are.
“Under city code, I have supervising control over all operations and affairs of the city. So I need to know what those documents are that you’re quoting that we’ve lost. I need to know what payments they are that your quoting that we’ve lost. What are they? So I can go look for them.”
Herbel listed several items, to which Mayfield responded: “I’ll ask you again. Where’s the document you say we’ve lost? What are they?”
Herbel responded that the payment on Kraus’s behalf and his signed contract were among them.
“Where are they, then?” Mayfield responded.
Referring to the contract, he pointed at Jones and added: “He’s had that. He’s always had that.”
Mayfield didn’t mention that two weeks earlier, he and Jones had questioned whether the document was valid. Instead, he defended not being able to find the check for Spur Ridge’s project and repeated his demands that Herbel cite specific missing documents.
Herbel questioned documentation for an agreement the city and the school district had regarding payments for principal and interest on swimming pool bonds.
“It was an interlocal agreement,” Mayfield replied. “They had it. It was an interlocal agreement. They’ve got it. The original interlocal agreement, the city has it. I can show it to you. In that agreement, they forgot to put in that original agreement that we would make a $100,000 payment to them.
“Is there or is there not any missing documents — yes or no? Yes or no? Is there agreements, payments, or other types of documents missing?”
“You can make your own decision,” Herbel replied. “I’m not answering that question.”
“OK, good enough,” Mayfield said.
“I’d still like to know where the tax money is,” Herbel said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mayfield replied.