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The City of Palmetto Cools Down the Solar Deal


BRADENTON -- At the Palmetto City Commission meeting, members voted to not install the photovoltaic solar panels that would have harvested the sun in order to take a big bite out of their electric bill. They all agreed the idea was good, but felt there were a couple ambiguous parts of the contract that prevented them from going forward. 

Jim Freeman, from the city clerk's office, presented Datacomm Services' (DCS) lease deal to commissioners, identifying which buildings the photovoltaic systems would be placed in. The police department and City Hall would have soon had the new equipment installed and operating. Part of what was unclear in the contract was the liabilities in relation to the placement of the panels. I asked Mayor Shirley Grover Bryant if they would entertain the idea again, and she said, "Yes, I took a consensus and we all agreed it would be good for the city, but we need to clear a few things up in the contract."

The agreement with Palmetto was; the city would not have to put any money down, no monthly fees and no maintenance cost to the city, yet they get the kilowatt hour produced by the system for free. At the end of the five year lease term, DCS would donate the equipment to the city for a cost $1.00 per system or will remove the equipment at no cost.

Sounds a little to good to be true, and it was. There were minor setup costs for engineering the equipment to fit and for the FPL net meters. These cost run from $3,000 to $4,000 per system, but the estimated annual savings per year was said to be $2,500 to $3,000, therefore producing a return on the set-up cost within a couple of years, but the deal breaker was liability.

What allows DCS to make these systems available at such a low cost is their retaining of the federal and state rebates and renewable energy credits for the life of the system. There are also energy grants available for businesses that make this deal possible. It adds up to the city saving money, saving the taxpayer money and DCS getting what they need for their equipment. DCS had a September 1 acceptance expiration date on the offer in order to keep the available grants in the deal. It is unclear whether DCS will be able to repeat the offer. 

It would be safe to say the city could use this kind of deal, providing the liability issues are combed out. It would be easy to out pace growth's request for more electricity, therefore not having to expand and build new facilities and infrastructure. This may be the best way to comprehensively deal with the energy demands of growth and governments are looking closely at such strategies -- just as Palmetto will continue to do in this case.


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