Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Despite questions, Council approves solar panel scheme

After looking the UCIA's solar panel 'gift horse' in the mouth by seeking answers to many questions, Plainfield's City Council last night unanimously approved Plainfield's participation in the UCIA's renewable energy initiative.

Two representatives sent by the UCIA (I could not hear their names, and only one of them's connection -- the Birdsall Service Group, engineering consultants; despite improvements, the miking at Council meetings remains execrable, IMHO) attempted to answer the Council's questions.

They spent a lot of time explaining that a lot of the questions couldn't be answered because the answers depended on how many 'entities' (local governments, boards of ed, and other governmental agencies) eventually sign on to the proposal. That included what final power costs would be to participants and what the percentage of savings would be.

A little last minute squeeze was applied by noting that the UCIA was facing a deadline on submitting its finalized proposal to the Local Finance Board in Trenton.

No knock against the young woman and young man, but the entire process to date has shown just how shabby the UCIA's management style is. The attitude seems to be, 'if we propose it, they will sign up' -- without a real care to explaining the project in a detailed and convincing manner (for some of the issues I raised previously, see here). No wonder Cranford, Berkeley Heights and Summit had questions about the program.

In contrast, Councilor Burney held up a sheaf of pages printed out from the Somerset County Improvement Authority's website which has detailed information on that county's solar panel initiative (see here). Compare that with the UCIA's website offering (see here), where there is a link to a form letter dated 'January 2010' and simply addressed 'Dear Municipal Official'. If that went to the Mayor's office, one has to wonder if it was ever passed along.

It was emphasized there was no risk to the city, and that the bonds were being guaranteed by the County (which, indirectly, means that the city and all the other communities in the county ARE on the hook).

Last night was also the first time I heard a) that the commitment is for FIFTEEN YEARS, and b) that the UCIA had conducted INFORMATIONAL MEETINGS for prospective participants. It didn't seem the Council had been aware of this either.

I simply cannot understand why, if communities whose participation was desired didn't show up for the 'informational meetings', the UCIA didn't have a flying squad charged with rounding up those outliers -- including making on-site presentations to the governing bodies as needed, and in a timely fashion.

Perhaps it's because this is Union County, and responsible bodies are just supposed to line up and do as they're told. Hmmmm.

Subsequent probing by Council members turned up two other interesting answers --

  • The vendors' identities are not yet known, and

  • The UCIA '[doesn't] have to go with the lowest bidder'.
This is, after all, Union County. Hmmmm.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Alan Goldstein said...

What would it take for the city to get a solar panel vendor to look at the four buildings in question and get an estimate for how much it would cost to put up panels and how much we will save if we do it ourselves and all the available credits accrue to us? At least we could compare apples to apples.

I understand the concept of critical mass and buying in bulk. However, once you add up the consulting costs associated with the UCIA project, and throw in the profits going to the as-of-yet unknown solar contractor who we will then be committed to buying power from for 15 years, there may be little in marginal savings to us, or none at all.

Sniff, sniff. Is this what a boondoggle smells like?

Anonymous said...

Here are some questions I will be asking the council regarding the solar panels -
1 - What happens if the vendor goes out of business? I heard that Union County will guarantee the panels. Well, isn't the added money that will come from UC us - the taxpayers?

2 - What happens if the technology becomes advanced and we are paying more within the 15 years because our technology is obsolete? Remember PMUA signed a 25 year contract that looked good at the time - now we are paying through the nose.

3 - I heard there was an "out" clause if we wanted to opt out - how much will that cost the taxpayers?

4 - What cities were offered this deal and refused? Why did they refuse?

I agree with you, Dan. Sloppy selling to mean means sloppy deal. I would ask the council to use great caution.

Anonymous said...

I raise the question once again - Doesn't the City receive free electric for lighting from PSE&G?

If so, will the lighting grid be connected to the solar panels and why?

Anonymous said...

The fact is the Council is afraid of the County. Simple. Too much for too many to loose. Storch has his Bridgeway. Annie has her political career. Mapp is trying to amend his ways with the county. Reid and Carter are already owned by the County. Don't understand why Burney and Rivers are following along.

Anonymous said...

It is a $45M deal. Who wants to get in the way of that deal? The complete obliteration of a political career! of course everyone is going to say "yes".

Anonymous said...

If the real Pros in DC can sign legislation into law or condemn or praise legislative items from other areas that they have not read and know nothing about except from the person trying to push the agenda forward, how can we expect these local yokels not to follow suit! Who was it that said, "The more intelligent the person, the easier it is to seperate them from their money (or in this case our tax dollars)"?

Anonymous said...

The more intelligent the person, the easier it is to part them with their money . . . hey, that's our money , not theirs!
Voting on something which they do not have all the information sort of reminds you of all the legislation signed into law in DC within the past two years, that no one had the time to read or find out the content, but passed it on the guarentee of a third party!

Anonymous said...

I have doubts about only 4 buildings being compliant. I agree with Alan, the city should do its own evaluation - look at other cities who have and have no solar panels, look at why they chose the way they did, and make their decision.

Anonymous said...

You have to remember who runs the Improvement authority and Union County. Her hignass and her attornies have to make enough money to support the outrageous salary she gets. This is just another way to line their pockets under the guise of it being good for the community.

Anonymous said...

Again some of the roofs LEAK !! Let's fix them first. Obviously must inspect on a very rainy day, not a "Photo Op" moment.

Yep I Said It! said...

@1:39pm -

Your misspelling of "Highness" as "hignass" is very interesting, innocent and appropriate. However . . . maybe you were thinking "heinous"?

Is there a pun in here somewhere?

Hmmmm . . .

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