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Solar energy debated in Jefferson County

STEUBENVILLE — Jefferson County commissioners aren’t totally sold on the idea of signing a long-term contract for solar energy, but due to time constraints they’ll have the prosecutor review the details nonetheless.

Commissioners were told Thursday they’ll need to decide by Aug. 29 if they want to sign a letter of intent to participate in the County Commission Association of Ohio’s solar energy program, which would allow participants to lock in rates for 25 years with no escalator.

Bob Snavely of Palmer Energy, CCOA’s energy program partner, said the letter of intent is non-binding, intended solely to help suppliers gauge interest and develop pricing. Snavely said nothing would be binding unless and until they signed a power purchase agreement.

“The letter of intent is not a power purchase agreement,” he said. “The letter of intent lets you see a number, more or less. If the pricing is good and you want to go from there, then you go to the power purchase agreement — that’s a contract locking you in, they make a recommendation tailored to your account.”

Snavely said 26 Ohio counties have already signed the LOI, and “five or 10” have verbally committed.

“It’s not even technically binding,” Snavely said. “It just says to developers who want to be included in the request for proposals process that this group is serious and wants to move forward.”

But after reading the draft letter of intent, Commissioner Dave Maple said he has reservations.

“You mentioned the letter of intent isn’t binding, but it actually says it is intended to be binding,” Maple said. “If we sign this, it’s not as simple as us saying we don’t like the price” if we would chose to drop out.

But Snavely said being able to lock in a price in this environment for 25 years at no escalator “is the selling point of this program,” pointing out they’d originally anticipated the project at about 2 megawatts but the interest shown so far suggests they should prepare for twice that. More will be better, price-wise, he said.

“I’d like to see some push toward solar, I appreciate the clean energy push, and I like that it’s designed to save counties money,” Maple said. “What I don’t like is that it’s a 25-year agreement.

“When it gets down to the wire, those will be hard decisions that sit in front of me.”

Gentile said he doesn’t like the idea of entering into a 25-year commitment.

“At the rate things develop today, there’s a lot of technology that can be developed. I’d be in favor of a shorter agreement,” Gentile said.

Commissioner Tom Graham called it the “way of the future, and we need to see that future and not be stuck in the past.”

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