The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners are writing in response to a recent article by County Councilman Fred Glynn regarding the Hamilton County Jail Complex Solar Project. We believe that additional facts and context would be helpful for Hamilton County taxpayers to determine if a state sanctioned guaranteed energy contract, generating an estimated net savings of over $12,500,000 over 25 years, is a good investment.
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 & exterior LED lighting, efficient direct digital controls systems with night setback as well as heating & cooling system upgrades.
The commissioners originally brought the Jail Complex Solar Project to the council in 2015. Everyone agreed at that time the solar project was not a good investment in that it did not generate a sufficient rate of return. Three important things have changed since 2015 which both make the solar project extremely beneficial and which have accelerated the timeline for installation:
- The technology and the capacity of the solar panels have been significantly improved and electric rates continue to escalate.
- In 2017 the Indiana General Assembly passed SB309 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.
- 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 for 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 their energy use and avoiding future utility increases.
- May 10, 2017 – Commissioner Altman personally met with Fred Glynn to explain the 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 & Grounds 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.
- Aug. 2, 2017 – Council Meeting – Solar Project stayed tabled.
- Aug. 16, 2017 – Council Finance Committee Meeting.
As you can see from the timeline above, 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 & Grounds Department, the engineering and installation contractor Johnson-Melloh or references provided by county staff.
The Hamilton County Commissioners fail to understand how any fiscally responsible County Council person would dismiss this project out of hand as a “pet project” without taking the time to review and discuss the same with the knowledgeable at hand.