Solar energy grants awarded to high schools, fire hall

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer April 06, 2010 02:10 pm

ENTERPRISE — A variety of energy efficiency projects are slated for installation in Enterprise and Joseph with the support of the Oregon Department of Energy’s State Energy Program.

“Wallowa County is in the lead by a large degree in the renewable energy field,” said Louis Perry of LD Perry Inc. of Joseph.

Joseph and Enterprise high schools and the Joseph Fire Department received three of the six solar project grants awarded by the state.

Perry said Renewable Energy Solutions of Enterprise, a for-profit subsidiary of Wallowa Resources, applied for the grants. Perry assisted with some of the technical aspects of the application.

The high school projects will cost $295,000 each, Perry said. The Department of Energy grants total $73,928 for solar panels to be installed over the multi-purpose room at Joseph High School and $73,920 for Enterprise’s solar project to be constructed in the southwest parking lot.

The Joseph Fire Hall solar panel installation will cost $200,000, Perry said. The Fire Department grant is for $49,280. Perry said the solar panels should produce $3,400 in electricity a year, most if not all of the power necessary for the fire hall.

“The grants have been awarded,” Perry said, “But the Oregon Department of Energy hasn’t released the rules yet so we know how grant funds are to be used. We can’t do anything until the rules are out. We expect them in the coming month.”

The projects are funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Oregon Department of Energy awarded nearly $6 million for 18 renewable energy projects in Oregon.

Additional funding for the projects will come in federal and state tax credits and from Oregon Energy Trust. With the varying funding streams, most of the costs should be covered, Perry said.

The Northeast Oregon Economic Development District will administer the grants for the solar energy projects in Wallowa County.

“Grant administration will include making sure the grant recipients follow all the rules,’’ said Lisa Dawson, executive director of NEOEDD. “We will help with reporting and getting the recipients additional funding for the projects.”

NEOEDD will assist with the grant administration for “as long as it takes,” Dawson said. The grants are on a reimbursement basis and funds will be released when reporting and expenditures have been sent to the Department of Energy.

While the grant recipients await the particulars of grant administration, a few concerns have been raised.

“Everything is on hold,’’ said Brad Royse, Enterprise School District superintendent. “We were told we wouldn’t have to expend any energy or time on RFPs and paperwork, but now we understand that we will need to be involved. Right now we are busy with a civil rights audit and a disagreement concerning the savings promised on the biomass furnace. We have no time right now to work on the solar project.”

Tom Clevenger of the Joseph Fire Department worries that the fire hall project may not break even.

“The problem is that it may not be as beneficial now as it once was with tax credits and the fire department nor the city has the money to make up the balance,” Clevenger said.

Clevenger is also concerned about ongoing maintenance for the solar panels and the potential that the panels may cause leaks in the roof. “It would be great not to have to be responsible for maintenance down the road,” he said.

Joseph Mayor Dennis Sands said there are questions about the potential of roof leaks. The city is in the process of getting information.

Sands said Joseph has received funding for two other energy efficiency grants. According to a State of Oregon press release, $20,000 has been awarded for a new heating system at the Joseph Community Center; $20,000 for the installation of a heat pump at city hall and; $45,000 for new city street lights.

Sands said the heat pump proposed for the city hall requires more electricity than the power pole currently provides. He will be meeting this week with Enterprise Electric, the contractor for the project, to determine if a new power pole will be required.

Government entities are the only ones eligible for funding under the grant program, a State of Oregon press release said. Federal criteria requires that at least 60 percent of the funds that the state receives be distributed to the smaller cities and counties ineligible for a direct allocation under the program.

The Oregon Department of Energy received 100 applications for projects in five specified categories including energy and water conservation projects, energy efficiency, project financing, renewable energy backup systems and transportation, the release said.

NEOEDD is not involved with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Formula block grants.