Commentary by Hamilton County Commissioners Christine Altman, Mark Heirbrandt and Steven Dillinger
Once again, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners are writing in response to an article submitted by County Councilman Fred Glynn regarding the Hamilton County Jail Complex Solar Project.
We believe that the readers of Current publications are entitled to complete and accurate facts to determine if a state-sanctioned, guaranteed energy contract, generating an estimated net savings of more than $12,500,000 over 25 years (with guaranteed savings backed up by an energy performance bond by one of the top five bonding companies in the world), is a good investment.
We also must admit that although we try very hard to be proactive, we are unfortunately not psychic and cannot predict actions of the Indiana General Assembly.
Utilities are the county’s second-highest expense, right behind our employee salaries/benefits. As the executive body, the commissioners are always looking for opportunities to save money and reduce our risk of future expenditures. The commissioners began exploring energy savings opportunities for our buildings in 2013 and implemented several cost-savings improvements. These improvements have resulted in energy savings of $225,000 per year by installing new interior and exterior LED lighting, efficient Direct Digital Control systems with night setback as well as heating and cooling system upgrades.
The Jail Complex Solar Project is not a new concept – we explored it with county council in 2015. Everyone agreed that the Solar Project was not a good investment at that time in that it did not generate a sufficient rate of return. Three important things have changed since 2015 (and our March joint meeting with county council), which make the Solar Project extremely beneficial and which have accelerated the timeline for installation.
1. The technology and the capacity of the solar panels have been significantly improved and electric rates continue to escalate.
2. April 25, 2017 the Indiana General Assembly passed SB 309 reducing net metering from 30 years to 15 years. Solar projects installed by Dec. 31, 2017 avoid the reduction and receive the 30-year net metering. If this project continues to be delayed past the end of the year, the county will lose $2,889,000.
3. Tariff petitions pending before the International Trade Commission, if passed before the purchase of the panels, will increase the cost of the Solar Project by $1,200,000.
The utility savings generated will pay the capital cost of the Solar Project in less than 10 years. These funds are already in the county utility budgets, and the Solar Project will not result in a tax increase, but rather a net savings. The other benefit is that the county would be taking control of its energy use and avoid future utility increases
- March 31, 2017 – Commissioners and county council meet to discuss pending projects.
- May 2 2017 – Gov. Eric Holcomb signed SB 309 into law.
- May 10, 2017 – Commissioner Altman personally met with Fred Glynn to explain the revised Solar Project and urgency to proceed.
- May 30, 2017 – County council was provided information on Solar Project.
- June 7, 2017 – County council was presented the Solar Project for consideration by Buildings and Ground Supervisor Steve Wood.
- June 19, 2017 – County attorney Mike Howard sent memo to the Finance Committee.
- June 19, 2017 – Council Finance Committee Meeting.
- July 5, 2017 – Council was presented again about the time constraints and importance of this project.
- August 2, 2017 – Council Meeting – Solar Project stayed tabled.
- August 16, 2017 – Council Finance Committee Meeting.
As you can see from the timeline above, SB 309 was not even law when the commissioners and council met in March. As you can also see from the timeline, President Fred Glynn had plenty of time to review and ask questions about this project but he did not. To date, after multiple requests, Mr. Glynn has not contacted the commissioners, the Hamilton County Building and Grounds Dept., the Johnson-Melloh Staff (engineering and installation firm) or references provided by county staff.
The Hamilton County Commissioners fail to understand how any fiscally responsible County Council person would wrap himself in self-imposed “red tape” to refuse to consider and refuse to review, discuss or educate himself on a project having such a positive fiscal impact.
It is important to note that the county council approved the Energy Services Agreement for the solar project on Sept. 13 by a 6-1 vote. It’s unfortunate that councilman Glynn was the only “no” vote.