Consultant To Handle Worcester’s Solar Bid Process

Consultant To Handle Worcester’s Solar Bid Process
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SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners agreed this week to begin soliciting proposals for solar projects.

In spite of concern from some regarding the cost of hiring a solar consultant, at the recommendation of county staff the commissioners voted 4-3 to move forward with hiring a consultant and beginning the Request for Proposal (RFP) process.

“If we’re going to go the RFP route, we need to pull that trigger today,” said Kelly Shanahan, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer.

Shanahan and County Attorney Sonny Bloxom were among several staff members on the Electricity Procurement Committee, which was tasked with researching the feasibility of a county solar development following a presentation last month by Standard Solar and Sun Edison, the partnership behind Pocomoke City’s solar array.

Bloxom said the group began by reviewing Power Purchase Agreements in other jurisdictions. Bloxom said those that went through an RFP process, including Wicomico County, achieved better rates than those that did not. Pocomoke, he said, went with a proposal from Standard Solar and did not solicit bids.

“Those jurisdictions that went with an RFP got the better deal,” Bloxom said.

Though Standard Solar was the first company to present the county with a proposal, Bloxom said his committee wanted to see what deals others had to offer.

“The proposal we’ve gotten from Standard Solar we don’t feel is good enough,” he said.

Bloxom did say it was difficult to compare potential rates for Worcester with those of other entities because if a solar array was built in Worcester County it would have to be done on private land, as the county doesn’t have suitable space.

“One of the challenges we have is our site is going to be off-site,” he said.

Because the committee was recommending pursuing an RFP, Bloxom said he and his peers were also advising county officials to hire consulting firm CQI Associates to handle the process. When the company presented a $6,000 proposal to the commissioners last month, a motion to hire the firm failed to receive a second. Nevertheless, Bloxom said the committee still felt the expertise offered by CQI Associates was needed.

“We still think that’s necessary,” Bloxom said. “Yes, collectively we are smart enough to understand the situation but it’s going to take us longer to learn this whole industry.”

Shanahan said the cost of hiring the consultant could come out of the county’s special energy fund and therefore wouldn’t affect the general fund balance.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he had no problem with moving ahead with a solar RFP but didn’t see the need for a consultant, particularly when the commissioners hadn’t voted to support the proposal presented last month. He said he thought staff could handle it.

“If this is the best we can do, we ought to hire a consultant for everything in this county,” he said.

Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw, however, said he agreed with the committee’s recommendation.

“Not that our committee is not capable but what they are suggesting is to get guidance to speed things up and ensure we’re going to get the best deal and not make the same mistake that Pocomoke made,” Lockfaw said.

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked whether the county could still meet the deadline for federal incentives if it went ahead with the RFP process instead of accepting Standard Solar’s recent proposal. Shanahan said the timetable presented by CQI called for issuing an RFP in August and awarding a bid by December, which would give the county time to meet the December 2016 deadline.

Bill Badger, the county’s economic development director, said he was not a member of the energy committee but had concerns about any delay.

“The clock is ticking,” he said. “These companies are rushing to get projects done. They’re not sitting around waiting for us to make a decision. They’re trying to figure out which jurisdictions are serious.”

Badger also defended Pocomoke City’s decision to work with Standard Solar.

“Pocomoke is saving $4,000 to $5,000 every month,” he said. “Every week we delay costs us $2,200.”

Bloxom, who lives in Pocomoke, said while the town was saving money he’d like to have seen it save even more money. He added that the amount of money the county spent on a consultant would be achieved in savings the first year the solar facility was in operation.

Mitrecic maintained staff could handle the solar proposals but other commissioners favored accepting the committee’s recommendations.

“What we’re doing here is over 20 years,” Diana Purnell said. “We need to do the best we can.”

The commissioners voted 4-3 to hire CQI Associates and move forward with soliciting solar bids. Commissioners Mitrecic, Jim Bunting and Ted Elder voted against the proposal.