PBL moving forward with — but not yet committed to — putting solar panels on schools

PAXTON — Paxton-Buckley-Loda school board members voted Wednesday to authorize the school district’s superintendent to sign interconnection agreements with Ameren Illinois in preparation for potentially putting solar panels on the rooftops of PBL schools.

The three interconnection agreements — one for each school and meter involved — do not commit the district to install the solar panels. However, they are necessary for PBL’s project to be entered into a state-run lottery that will give a limited number of solar-energy projects in Illinois a set price for the purchase of renewable-energy credits.

The lottery is through the Illinois Power Agency’s Adjustable Block Program, which was established by the Future Energy Jobs Act. Projects must be entered into the lottery between Jan. 15 and Jan. 30 to be considered for the incentives, according to  Allie Loschen, vice president of Illinois sales for Novel Energy Solutions, based in West St. Paul, Minn.

“They have allotted $200 million in renewable-energy credit money that they’ll give out,” Loschen told the school board.

In October, the school board entered into a “commitment of interest” for Loschen’s company to put solar panels on PBL’s schools. Loschen said that in addition to signing the interconnection agreements, her company is requiring the district to also sign a contract with her firm before the project is entered into the lottery. The only other requirement is that Novel Energy Solutions obtain a vendor certificate from the state, which Loschen said has already been done.

Upon the suggestion of Superintendent Cliff McClure, the school board agreed to move up the date of its next meeting from Jan. 16 to Jan. 14 in order to vote on the approval of the contract with Novel Energy Solutions before the lottery gets under way.

According to Loschen, the interconnection agreements state that “Ameren has done their study and that they’re willing to let you into their system.” Loschen stressed that the interconnection agreements do not commit PBL to proceed with the project.

“The interconnection agreement only commits me to a $500 fee per interconnection agreement and commits me to any interconnection costs that it would take to upgrade any transformers or anything like that to make this work,” Loschen told the board. “It commits you to absolutely nothing, other than the fact that if you do want to proceed into the lottery as of Jan. 15, that you can.”

The terms of the contract, meanwhile, continue to be negotiated.

“In the contract, there’s nothing that we’ve seen that we have an issue with, and nothing that we’re not willing to meet,” Loschen told the board.

n response to concerns about the district having to pay for its attorney, Chris Miller, to review the contract’s language — and potentially hire its own structural engineers and electrical engineers to make sure the schools’ roofs and electrical systems can support the solar panels — Loschen noted that her company would be willing to pay for engineering studies and that her company might also be willing to pay PBL’s attorney fees.

Loschen also noted that, under the terms of the proposed contract, “if your engineer comes back and says, ‘Your roof is not sound,’ you’re not obligated to anything.”

Loschen also noted that if PBL’s project ends up being selected for the solar incentives through the lottery process, the district can still decide to back out of the project with no penalty in the first seven days after the lottery concludes, Loschen said.

Board members Allen Johnson, Steve Pacey, Doug Wolken and Shawn Young voted in favor of authorizing McClure to sign the intergovernmental agreements Wednesday, while the board’s vice president, Dave Dowling, abstained due to what he said was “a conflict.” Dowling is employed by Ameren Illinois.

Absent were the board’s president, Dawn Bachtold, and board member Craig Loschen.

The board’s Jan. 14 meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the board room at the unit office in Paxton.

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