Council gives green light for solar power project

FRONT ROYAL – The town can move forward on a project set to bring solar power to Front Royal.

Council voted 6-0 this week to approve a contract with American Municipal Power Inc. to build the Solar Phase II project in town. The town, as a member of AMP, receives electric energy generated by various facilities, some of which use renewable resources, and provides power to municipal customers.

Specifically, council approved on its second reading an ordinance and resolution on a power sales contract and an interconnection agreement with AMP, along with a 5-year lease of the solar generation facility the company would build and operate on a 15-acre site in Front Royal.

Councilman Bret Hrbek spoke about the project and cited previous efforts to bring solar power generation to the town. Hrbek noted Director of Energy Service Joseph Waltz and former town manager Mike Graham’s involvement in bringing AMP to town.

“I was one of the most vocal proponents of this and we went through some interesting turbulence many years ago on solar in Front Royal, personal to some of us, and I’m really happy to see that we will be incorporating solar here, locally, as in our portfolio of electrical utilities,” Hrbek said.

Council’s action comes about five years after the town and the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority tried to put a solar field in the former Avtex Fibers site.

At the council meeting Monday, former Councilman Thomas Sayre spoke positively about the latest effort. Sayre noted that council on Aug. 23, 2010, when he served as a member, voted to move forward on the previous solar project. Almost a year later the town learned that the contract between AMP and Standard Solar Inc. had been terminated “due to Standard Solar’s inability to perform in accordance with … the contract.” Sayre said the new arrangement is similar in many ways to the earlier effort but pointed out that AMP would own the facility.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt echoed Hrbek and noted that he served as mayor at the time the town first embarked on a potential solar energy project. Tewalt called it “a trying time.”

“A lot of words were said that were untrue and other things happened that just made it impossible for us to get this approved,” Tewalt recalled.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe thanked Waltz for his work on the project.

“I think it’s gonna be great for the town,” Tharpe said.

Waltz, in response to a question from Tharpe, said that the solar power, when added to what the town distributes, would replace some of the peaking power and keep rates from increasing.

Also at the meeting, council:
• Voted 6-0 to adopt on second reading an ordinance to change the town code section pertaining to banner poles
• Voted 5-1 to adopt on second reading an ordinance to change the code section pertaining to the business professional occupational license fee. Hrbek voted against the motion to adopt the ordinance.
• Voted 6-0 to rescind the Enterprise Zone Ordinance adopted on a first reading at its July 13. The motion as approved Monday states that council’s adoption of the ordinance was not time-critical and that rescinding the language would give members more time to investigate the benefits of the Enterprise Zone and reconsider its creation in the future.
• Voted 6-0 to revise a resolution for the vacation of a public right-of-way. The town needs to hold a public hearing on the vacation at its meeting Aug. 10.
• Voted 6-0 on a motion to amend the current budget to reflect the purchase of a 2015 Victory Commander 1 police motorcycle for $25,873 and to approve the trade-in of a 2007 Harley Davidson for $6,000. The money for the new motorcycle would come out of the Front Royal Police Department’s asset forfeiture fund.
• Voted 6-0 on a budget amendment for a salary increase of $500 for the clerk of council
• Voted 5-1 on a budget amendment for a salary increase of $2,000 for Town Manager Steve Burke. His new salary will be $119,620. Tewalt voted against the salary increase, noting that council should wait until they consider renewing Burke’s contract in August.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com