Burlington’s energy proposal referred to renewable energy committee

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The battle between social good and financial responsibility was in the spotlight on Monday at Burlington City Council Meet.

The council was offered two competing options for installing solar panels on certain buildings in the city. One option was cheaper and the other more expensive, but the latter would generate more energy and use local unionized workers.

“We like to hire local businesses that work with unions, but we also need to be fiscally responsible,” Mayor Jon Billups said of the choice the city faces.

Rather than developing a plan and asking companies to submit bids, the council had requested a tender, which asks companies to come up with their project idea. These projects will not be purely dollar-for-dollar comparisons because companies have different ideas about what the city should do, although these proposals are generally based on ideas that the city presents in the RFP.

Precision Energy Service, which has an address in West Burlington and is based in rural Des Moines County, submitted a proposal. The other was from Mohrfield Solar, which is based in Fort Madison. The two companies used the same solar power maker, Red Lions Renewables, but had different plans to install a solar platform.

Brian Fleming, director of business development for Precision, said he understood the city wanted carports, but from a cost perspective, his company didn’t think carports made sense because the continuing rise in the cost of steel. Rather, Precision designed projects that relied on rooftop and ground mounting solar panels to make the process less expensive.

Michael Mohrfield said he was frustrated with the discussion the Municipal Council. He said he understood the goal was to save money for the city and the contractor needed to have an electrician on staff. Mohrfield meets both of these requirements and Precision meets neither.

City Manager Chad Bird said both proposals met the requirements of the RFP.

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What Precision had was more choice for solar panels. Neither company wanted to use solar panels for the police department or the public library. However, Precision included the tennis courts, additional properties at the Flint Hills golf course, and the Des Moines County Humane Society building, for which the city pays utilities.

Burlington City Council was supposed to vote on a 20-year contract for solar power, but council requested that the matter be referred to the Renewable Energy Commission for further discussion.

“We want to review and make sure we make the right decision,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Lynda Murray, who is the council representative on the REB.

According to Nick MacGregor, deputy city manager of public works, the city received information about Mohrfield’s proposal on the eve of a council meeting, and the REC meeting was held the next day.

However, MacGregor had to attend a meeting of the Des Moines County Board of Directors to discuss a major real estate transaction.

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According to MacGregor, because the REC did not have the information it had, it recommended that the city go with Precision. However, after MacGregor reviewed the information, he preferred Mohrfield as the city would see more savings on his energy bill.

“There are distinct differences at places like the fire department, the Rec Plex, and the golf course where the three (energy) rates have a difference in savings of 0.05, 0.035, and 0.08 respectively,” said MacGregor wrote in his note to City Council.

The city council was concerned that the two companies were using different calculations in their proposals, making it difficult to assess the savings achieved at each facility.

“It’s not even apples for apples,” Billups said.


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