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Supervisors like NL-based Moxie solar company

County gives consensus for powering Secondary Roads building
Moxie Solar panels soak up energy on a Van Kooten hog farm just outside of Grinnell. (file photo by Eric Hawkinson)

NORTH LIBERTY– A dawning North Liberty business has just been granted a bright opportunity.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors sought renewable energy sources to power its new Secondary Roads building. Moxie Solar, based in North Liberty, was one of five entities to submit proposals on the project. The county narrowed its choice to three companies, and during the board’s Oct. 9 discussion, Moxie Solar came out on top.
Jason Hall, founder of Moxie Solar, said his company is eager to work with the county.
“I am certain that everyone in Iowa knows that Johnson County is sensitive to being eco-friendly and environmentally conscious. This has been important to them for quite a while but they just didn’t have a way to actually put it on,” Hall said. We went through a competitive proposal process, and for them to select Moxie was a perfect fit.”
The county’s main Secondary Roads building was destroyed by fire in March 2013, and planning its replacement has been a long process. An important factor in constructing a new building was energy efficiency, said Supervisor Rod Sullivan.
“I think it’s critical for a number of reasons. First, we are committed to reducing greenhouse gases. Second, even if other forms of energy get cheaper in the near future, I like the idea of being able to generate the power ourselves. It seems like a safety factor. Producing our own power gives us a self-sufficiency that I like,” Sullivan said.
On Oct. 9, Johnson County’s Assistant Planner Josh Brusard presented substantive data for the board’s consideration: comparisons of equipment, warranties and services between the three final bidders; the cost of powering the building with a solar array versus strictly conventional means; how much the county would pay to use each company’s equipment over the course of 10 to 25 years; and the expense of eventually purchasing the equipment from each of the three finalists.
Along with Moxie Solar, the finalists were Eagle Point Solar in Dubuque County and Atwood Electric in Keokuk County.
Brusard pointed to the county’s overall goals in its strategic plan.
“A lot of this was motivated by the strategic planning efforts of the board,” said Brusard. “One was by July 2016 to reduce energy use by 2 percent, and an offshoot of that goal is to save taxpayers money. An action step was to prepare a report on a potential renewable alternative energy project, and move forward on it.”
A broader goal is for the county overall to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2008 levels in the next three decades. Brusard said using a solar array goes a long way toward that goal. Based on numbers produced by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), a solar array is predicted to reduce CO2 emissions by 129,000 tons.
“That’s equivalent to reducing driving by 279,000 miles by the average passenger vehicle every year, taking 16.1 homes off the grid, or not using 273 barrels of oil,” Brusard explained.
The county’s Secondary Roads campus, which includes the building used by SEATS as well as the new facility, will need about 170,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. Moxie Solar’s array would provide more than 180,000 kilowatts, ample power for the campus.
As for saving taxpayer dollars, Brusard had more good news. The total system cost for the county in the first 10 years of operation would be about $201,795 if contracting with Moxie, the lowest bid of the three companies by at least $32,000. Further, Moxie’s system is expected to provide the most energy cost savings over the long term, approximately $275,000 over 25 years.
Because the initial output for equipment is steep, and because governments are not allowed to take advantage of federal and state tax credits for installing energy-efficient equipment like residents and commercial entities can, the county did not wish to purchase a solar power system for the new facility. Instead, the county is able to enter into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the solar company, which will allow the government to indirectly benefit from tax credits and use the company-owned equipment with the option to purchase it at the agreement’s end.
“A PPA beats an outright purchase by hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Brusard said.
The board did not vote on a contract, but gave consensus for the county attorney’s office to work with Moxie Solar on a 10-year PPA for the board’s consideration; the process is similar to entering into a lease for services, with a public hearing to be held before official approval.
Hall said his part of the project will require a great deal of coordinating with other contractors who will be on site to complete the building itself, but once Moxie Solar can begin, installation of the solar array should take between four to six weeks.
The board members were unanimous in their informal approval to work with Moxie Solar, and each explained the reasons for that choice.
“I have great appreciation for the companies who submitted bids,” said Supervisor Rod Sullivan, who spent time learning about the system Eagle Point installed near Frytown in Johnson County. “I’m terribly impressed. I really like that company. But when push comes to shove, I think Moxie is the better financial deal for the county, and it is a Johnson County-based company.”
Sullivan’s fellow supervisors also said the company’s locality tipped their decision in Moxie Solar’s favor.
“Moxie’s bid is much more favorable to the people of Johnson County,” said Supervisor Janelle Rettig. “The fact they are local is icing on the cake.”
Since the county began its discussion of including alternative energy sources in new and existing facilities, Rettig said she has heard from other providers who are interested in working with the county.
“Solar in Iowa is about to have huge growth, and I’m really excited about that. I hope this is the first of several projects we do in the future,” said Rettig.
Hall, of Moxie Solar, is equally excited about the direction solar energy is taking as a viable alternative, and is happy his company can help light the path.
“This will give us a lot of publicity, in that there are a lot of other governments or related entities that will take a look at our project as it goes up; everything from design to financial structuring to installation and equipment,” said Hall. “They will look to see how Johnson County figured it out. It’s a great product we are offering. We are 12 minutes away from the project. All those things combined boil down to us being really excited about the opportunity and feeling really blessed. There couldn’t be better synergies going on for us.”