A solar energy project at a former golf course topped discussions during a Martinsville City Council meeting Tuesday. The project also was discussed at the July 12 meeting, when questions arose about the cost increase.
On Tuesday, Garrett Cole, Power Consultant for GDS & Associates, offered specific details about the project, as well as addressing delays and why the costs have risen. Information also was distributed about changes to the Purchase Plan Agreement (PPA) with Sun Tribe as the developer and Sol Systems as the investor.
Another factor discussed was how the cost went from $45/MWh (Megawatt hour) to $60/MWh (Megawatt hour) to complete the project.
In opening remarks, Cole asserted that now is a “good time to be reaffirming what we’re looking at regarding our energy resources. We’ve spent a lot of time over the years looking at how to hedge our portfolio of energy supply against high prices and we’re in one of those markets right now.”
The solar energy project was to be completed by June of 2022, but the amended date on the PPA is now June 2024.
According to Cole, supply chain issues and Covid are the main reasons the project has been delayed. Costs associated with completing the project have risen due to the cost of materials, Cole said, and maintained the project has benefit for the city, referring specifically to savings from the “Behind the Meter” project and battery storage project.
Council member Danny Turner said he had “asked to see the contract and was told he couldn’t see it till three days before it was signed. I got the contract now – seller confirms existence of Covid 19 and continues to believe they can deliver.”
Turner said that other solar projects are being built at the same time, and that the sellers are in violation of the contract. He asked if it was possible to “shop around” to try to find a better deal.
Cole explained that Sun Tribe would be purchasing the property to complete the project, and emphasized the importance of closing this land deal, which must be done in October.
Reiterating his concerns about the contract, Turner said, “we’ve got an obligation to re-shop it around. We got the land. We got the infrastructure. We’re holding the cards and the other group’s not.”
“No, we don’t have the land,” Mayor Kathy Lawson said, and added that the land opportunity is not between the city of Martinsville and Corteva, it’s between Corteva and the solar company.
Cole said the updated PPA now covers concerns mentioned at the last council meeting, and noted that if the PPA is terminated, the city has the option to decide what to do with the land.
Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles said that no one who voted (on the council) had not had the opportunity to see the contract.
“We all had the same opportunity,” she said.
Council member Chad Martin said the contract “has been spot checked to see if there’s other pricing that might be better. It has been shopped around. We don’t hold the cards. We don’t own the land.”
City Manager Leon Towarnicki added that 26 different companies submitted bids on the project, and that Sun Tribe was selected at the end of that extensive process.
Lawson moved to put the matter on hold, and include it on the next agenda.
In other matters, the council:
*Heard a review from Towarnicki about the City Neighborhood Meeting and tour Monday. He noted property conditions observed by the council, as well as issues discussed by the community members attending the meeting. Various concerns were raised by residents, such as kudzu covering areas in a neighborhood, speeding motorists, truck traffic, and parking enforcement.
*Turner made a motion to order City Attorney Eric Monday to enforce ordinances to cleanup properties. Council member Tammy Pearson seconded. Lawson said the council did not have enough information. The council reached a consensus to add this item to the agenda for the next meeting.
*Heard about a design by the Virginia Department of Transportation referred to as “Smart Scale” that involved constructing a decorative wall as well as other features to enhance the appeal of the city.
Comments from the floor included a moving plea from Keith Owens, director of Peer Recovery Center, about the need for a homeless shelter in Martinsville. Owens expressed concerns that the homeless population in Martinsville will experience “a 25 percent increase” as a result of the moratorium that ended on July 1. Lawson directed him to meet with Towarnicki to address these needs.
To illustrate the significance of the homeless problem in the city, Martin noted that someone recently said, “Do you realize we have a shelter for animals, but we don’t have a shelter for people?”
*Ariel Johnson, director of the Warming Center, also raised concern about the homeless population of Martinsville and discussed “harm reduction” as it relates to those suffering from opioid addiction. Harm reduction refers to policies that attempt to reduce the problems that can be encountered by drug users without eliminating drug use altogether.
*Michael Sanguedolce, a Martinsville resident, expressed the need for a traffic study on Starling Avenue. Towarnicki noted the possibility of an alternate truck route.