Council presses on with solar power project

BROWNSTOWN — After months of discussion and research, the Brownstown Town Council recently opted to forge ahead with some projects designed to reduce the town’s energy consumption.

Rick Anderson, business development director for Johnson-Melloh Solutions, spoke to the council Monday night about starting the process of looking into several potential projects, including converting the town’s 200 or so streetlights to solar power.

One of his first suggestions involving the streetlights centered around the use of existing poles or installing new ones.

“When you’re talking about putting a $500 to $1,000 fixture on top of a pole, does it make sense to not do the whole pole, as well?” Anderson said. “I think maybe we could get away with retrofitting the poles, but is that really what you want to do? It all comes down to cost.”

He said the other side of that funding issue is that by converting the streetlights from electric to solar power, there is going to be significant savings.

“That might help offset some of those poles,” Anderson said. “I think it would definitely behoove us to get a light designer here to really get an idea of what we’ve got, another solution and the cost.”

The council voted to hire Anderson as consultant for several potential guaranteed energy saving projects they might want to tackle. Besides the streetlights, the council also is considering installing solar on the town hall and wastewater treatment plant and any other building the town owns with the exception of the lift stations.

Anderson said converting the lift stations to solar power really doesn’t seem feasible because doing so would require acquiring land.

“And that’s just an extra cost,” he said.

Over the past few months, Anderson has spoken to the council several times, and they have traveled to North Vernon and Crothersville to see how their efforts to move toward solar energy have worked out.

Anderson said he would put together some cost estimates and savings for some of the projects for the council’s Dec. 5 meeting.

Any funds the council might borrow for solar energy projects could be eligible for rebates through the federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, he said.

As an example, Anderson said a $750,000 project would produce a rebate of 30% or about $75,000 for the solar portion of it from the federal government.

“Most people are just going to put that toward their loan,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty simple.”

He said it may be good the council held off as long as it did about making a decision to tackle some solar projects because any completed this year are not eligible for the rebate.

The rebates are going to be for projects that are energized after the first of the year, Anderson said.

Any project the town could put together and get up and running in 2023 would lead to a check in 2024, he said.

As consultant, Anderson will not get paid until a project is in the works. If the guaranteed savings aren’t realized by the town, Johnson-Melloh Solutions will have to pay the town to make up the difference.

During a meeting earlier in the year, Anderson said the whole premise of the guaranteed savings projects is there is no out-of-pocket cost.

“You’re already spending the money, so what we’re trying to do is spend it more efficiently, and whatever efficiency savings we can come up with, we put toward infrastructure improvements,” he said. “We’re not asking you guys for any new money. It’s just you’re spending more efficiently.”

At that time, Anderson outlined the state’s energy savings program, which allows communities to do guaranteed savings projects. Those projects could include lighting, solar and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.