County board votes to move ahead with study regarding solar panels on county buildings – Albert Lea Tribune – Albert Lea Tribune

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County board votes to move ahead with study regarding solar panels on county buildings

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to contract with an Anoka-based company to study the feasibility of installing solar arrays on the four main county buildings.

The county previously worked with Apex Facility Solutions on building upgrades at the Government Center, the Human Services building, the Environmental Services building and the county highway shop. The solar project was talked about with that project but was not part of that work, said Freeborn County Administrator Ryan Rasmusson said.

The contract, for $6,350, would include looking into the feasibility for guaranteed energy savings for the project.

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Estimated energy savings have been projected at about $137,000 after 10 years, $264,000 after 15 years, $439,000 after 20 years and $844,000 after 25.
The project would pay for itself after 20 years, at which times the county would see higher savings.

The initial cost estimate for the panels is about $997,000, with federal grant opportunities for about $299,000. The remaining cost of about $698,000 would be paid over 20 years at zero percent interest.

Third District Commissioner John Forman, who serves on the county building committee, said the solar panels would be installed on the roofs of all of the buildings except for at the highway department, where there would likely be an on-ground array.

Apex, if awarded the contract after the study is complete, would apply for the grants and credits and then would finance the project.

The work to be completed as part of the study would include preliminary design and engineering to establish the guaranteed maximum pricing for solar systems at each site, determining the appropriate electrical interconnections and tie-ins for the electrical services at each site, and creating a proforma showing the county’s investment, predicted annual energy production and predicted annual cashflow and savings.

Fifth District Commissioner Nicole Eckstrom asked if the project would go out for bids after the study or if Apex would oversee the project.
Forman said if they moved forward with Apex after the study and the company guaranteed the performance, he thought it would have some say about the final approval of bids in the event a company put in a bid was not qualified.

Second District Commissioner Dawn Kaasa said while the plans sounded attractive, she questioned how they are able to project out 25 years. She also referenced the numerous solar energy companies available.

“I think it’s bold to say they can guarantee the savings,” she said.

Board Chairman Brad Edwin asked if the solar panels would last 25 years, and Forman said they would.

Fourth District Commissioner Chris Shoff said he has talked about having solar panels on the county buildings for a long time and referenced 70% of Walmart buildings having solar panels on their roofs.

Edwin asked if moving forward with the study would lock them in to the work with Apex.

Rasmusson said it would not. He noted, however, that the county’s dealings with Apex previously have been positive.

Forman said he thought the commissioners could vote on the study so they can know more of what can be guaranteed and what final costs would be and then decide whether to go ahead after that comes back.

Kaasa ultimately voted no, while all of the other commissioners voted in favor.

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