Centre Commissioners move forward with solar panel plan

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS Jeff Steiner, elections inspector, casts his vote as Joan Andrews, judge of elections, looks on at The Oaks in Pleasant Gap. The Oaks is the polling location for precinct 87, Spring Township Southwest in Centre County.

BELLEFONTE — For several months, there’s been talk of a solar panel array at the Centre County Correctional Facility. At Tuesday’s Centre County commissioners meeting, the county took one step closer to a plan that makes solar a cost-effective energy source for the prison.

By a 2-1 vote, the commissioner moved an agreement with Centre County Solar Partners, LLC to next week’s consent agenda.

The agreement is for the purpose of constructing, installing, operating, maintaining, replacing and repairing approximately 1,196 kilowatts of solar photovotalic electric generation system.

Commissioners Mark Higgins and Michael Pipe — both Democrats — voted yes to the plan. Steve Dershem, the lone Republican, voted against it.

“My concern — and I’ll be quite blunt about this — is that we are enjoying in Centre County probably some historically low electric energy prices and we have that locked in for three years. I have to tell you, at this point I don’t support this program,” Dershem said.

The agreement is for a period of 25 years. The cost includes an advance contract service payment of $600,000, annual service payments of $101,000 for years one through five. There is an early termination fee of $567,411 in year six to purchase the solar photovotalic electric generation system.

Pipe believes the plan will put the county in a good position for the future.

“I’m very supportive of this. This is an opportunity for Centre County to beat any other municipalities and entities to the punch when it comes to being leaders in renewable energy,” Pipe said. “We are seeing a tidal wave of movement into renewable energy. I think this is a good investment.”

Higgins said that the plan to employ renewable energy makes fiscal sense.

“In my opinion, if you can invest $1.6 million on proven technology that at this point is powering entire countries and you can sell your electric generation credits for $50 and lock it in for five years … we can save $4.8 million. In my world, if I can spend $1.6 million today and be cashflow positive by year seven, I’m all for it,” Higgins said.

However, despite the arguments of Pipe and Higgins, Dershem stood his ground and refused to make the vote unanimous.

“I appreciate the whole green energy issue. But to me, we just spent a lot of money on LED lighting and we spent a lot of money on HVAC upgrades, which have tangible and immediate results. I think those are a more effective use of taxpayer dollars. That’s where I’m at,” Dershem said.

In other business, the commissioners moved several other items to next week’s consent agenda:

∫ Submission of the application for funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant of $4,000,000 for the central Pennsylvania institute of Science and Technology Health Sciences Building.

∫ Agreement with ComPros, Inc. to provide and install new VESTA phone equipment with one year of onsite support. The total cost is $529,933.59 and is completely funded by state grant. This is part of the Southern Alleghenies Cooperative CPE Expansion project 2018-73 that includes Blair, Huntingdon, Bedford, Fulton and Centre Counties. Upon completion, Centre County 911 will have new phone equipment and will be connected to the Blair/Huntingdon server.

∫ Contract renewal with Public Health Management Corporation for annual licensing, maintenance and support for the DUI Risk and Needs Triage (RANT) software. This assessment will be performed on all individuals being considered for the DUI Court program. The contract total is $1,100 for the period of June 1, 2019 through May 31, 2020.

∫ Submission of a grant application to Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool (PCoRP) in the amount of $19,957.90.

∫ Liability, property and crime insurance policy renewal through Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool (PCoRP). The total cost is $337,887 for the period of June 1, 2019.

∫ Volunteer accident policy renewal through Berkley Accident and Health Insurance. The total cost is $7,725 for the period of July 1, 2019 through July 1, 2020.

The commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 28 at the Willowbank Building.