After nearly two hours of debate, the Edmonds City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to approve a site lease for the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative to install a solar project on the city-owned Frances Anderson Center roof in downtown Edmonds. The lone “no” vote came from Councilmember Lora Petso, who said she wanted more time to study the proposal.
It’s estimated that the project, initiated by non-profit citizens group Sustainable Edmonds, will produce 75,000 kilowatt hours annually – a significant share of the Frances Anderson Center’s electrical use – and will save the City of Edmonds more than $30,000 over the next 10 years.
The idea had been discussed at two previous council meetings but votes to approve were delayed due to council concerns about city liability, safety and cost. Stanley Florek, CEO of Seattle-based Tangerine Power, which was chosen by Sustainable Edmonds to oversee the project installation, made a presentation Tuesday night aimed at addressing all previous council questions. However, additional issues were raised, prompting frustration and some sharp exchanges between those ready to approve the project (in particular Council President Strom Peterson and Councilmember Steve Bernheim) and those who wanted more time (Councilmembers Petso, D.J. Wilson and Michael Plunkett).
Florek, Peterson and Bernheim evoked images of the recent crisis at the nuclear plant in Japan as reason enough to look for safe energy alternatives, and also cited the educational value of a placing the project on the roof of the heavily-used community center. Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas proposed an amendment, which the council approved, requiring that the three main concerns expressed by dissenting councilmembers — building liability, bonding and roof warranty — be addressed before Mayor Mike Cooper signs the agreement. The council also passed an amendment requiring the final agreement come back to the entire body for final review. Those changes were enough to secure a 6-1 vote in favor of the measure.
“I guess I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but I was hoping it would be tonight,” Chris Herman, president of the Edmonds Solar Cooperative, said of the additional council requirements, which he estimated will take a few weeks to fulfill. (Watch a video interview with Herman on the project here.)
The Edmonds cooperative is the first community-owned solar cooperative in Washington state, and it is open to local residents and businesses who purchase $1,000 shares. Participants will also be able to take advantage of State of Washington financial incentives for community solar projects, aimed at jump starting clean-energy initiatives. Under the arrangement, multiple owners or contributors provide the upfront capital funding, and then receive payments for the value of the electricity produced over time proportional to their stake in the overall project.
In other business, the council:
– held a one-hour joint meeting with Snohomish County Fire District 1 Commissioners and heard district’s annual report regarding fire, paramedical services, training, prevention, and public educational activities; its response time for emergencies; and its process for collecting emergency medical services (EMS) transport fees.
– heard a report from Edmonds Center for the Arts Executive Director Joe McIalwain, who said that while the center has a balanced operating budget, it is continuing to struggle with capital obligations thanks to declining Snohomish County tax revenues and will need the Council’s help to cover a $100,000 bond payment in the spring.
– had an opportunity to meet new Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez, who started at the college on Jan. 1.