Rushford Village Council pulls trigger on solar array

By: 
Scott Bestul

After months of deliberation, the Rushford Village City Council voted to adopt a lease agreement that would allow the construction and maintenance of a solar energy array on village property. Also discussed during the Feb. 4 meeting was an update on how the city would deal with the absence of Public Works Director Travis Scheck.

Solar array

It’s been among the council’s most-discussed topics in recent months, and councilors finally voted to enter a lease agreement with OneEnergy/MiENergy that would lease 2.54 acres of property for the construction of a solar array. That facility would house a one-megawatt system that would be in place for twenty-five years and possibly longer. While the council seemed interested in the project from the start, several councilors had expressed concern for the length of the lease and in receiving adequate compensation for the land. “Obviously, we’re looking out for the best interests of the city,” said Councilor Knutson, as they discussed the project.

Late last month, Knutson and Councilor Hart were tasked with negotiating terms of a lease agreement, and their efforts resulted in the proposal the council discussed. Those terms included $500 per acre for the first year, $1,000 per acre for the next, and $750 per acre for the remainder of the term. The lease also included the possibility of a ten-year extension, and the proposed rent for that period would be $1,000 per acre.

The lease has been reviewed by city attorney Joe O’Koren, who felt that a renegotiation in per-acre fees after the first ten years might be appropriate. “At the end of that period it could work in both party’s favor to renegotiate,” he said. “The value of the land could drop, or it could skyrocket.” However, MiEnergy’s Kent Whitcomb said the terms were similar to those of other sites and were firm.

O’Koren also suggested other terms in the lease agreement that could be clarified or rewritten. Among those terms was an assurance that the lease is to be used only for solar panels, and that any subcontractors working on the site be documented and insured. O’Koren also called out language stipulating that the site be returned to a “substantially similar” state at the end of the agreement. “Substantially similar gave me pause,” he said. “Myself and other council members would like to see it put back the way it was.”

After much discussion, Councilor Knutson moved to accept the lease agreement, pending input from legal counsel. “Obviously we’d have liked to get more money,” Knutson said. “I feel it’s worth more because of its location, but I also feel we’re definitely going to make more money [from the land] than we have been. It’s a steady income stream and its for a renewable resource.” The motion passed, with only Councilor Hart in opposition.

Scheck absence

The council discussed the impending absence of Public Works Supervisor Travis Scheck, who will be having surgery and is expected to miss six weeks. In the interim, the council has hired Bob Thieret, who is assisting Jon Pettit with snowplowing duties. Councilor Ebner and Mayor Overland are assisting with water and wastewater checks. The council also discussed the need for potential part-time help with mowing and other maintenance tasks. It was decided that an updated job description would be brought to the next meeting for council review.

Schedule

The next meeting of the Rushford Village City Council is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.