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Coatesville School Board Approves Final Agreements for Solar Field

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Monday, September 1, 2014

CALN — Years of negotiations and anxious anticipation for a final decision, Coatesville Area School Board members approved the remaining agreements with Coatesville Solar Initiative, Inc. for the development of a solar field.

"I can't express how happy I am to come to this point," school board president Neil Campbell said before the board approved three items related to the solar project. "It is my hope that in the next few months you are going to see a major construction project that will run through this main campus to that build, which will benefit this community."

School board members unanimously approved a 25-year power purchase agreement at a fixed rate of about $.0765 per kilowatt hour for the first three years of the agreement. The remaining 22 years, the school district would pay "a discounted market price subject to specified floor and ceiling prices thereafter," according to the school board agenda.

The school district will never pay more than the ceiling price and if those rates fall between the floor and ceiling, the school district will receive a 10 percent discount on energy.

Projected costs over the next 25 years show in 2039 the school district could pay about 3 cents less per kilowatt hours using solar verses "grid" energy - projected to reach $.16 per kilowatt hour.

The CSI solar project is a 9.1 megawatt solar farm that will be installed on 46 acres of property just south of Dogwood Lane and Scott Drive and north of Coatesville Area High School in Caln Township. The school district was expected to purchase about 6 megawatts of power for the high school.

The board also approved granting CSI an easement through the high school campus to gain access to the construction site and an agreement for CSI to provide the school district with "added benefits" - installing outdoor lighting, providing the school district with an electric car and three charging stations for district use, solar education kiosks and an education center - at no cost to the school district.

CASD is receiving a onetime payment of $125,000 as a part of the easement agreement.

School district's special legal counsel from Rhoads & Sinon, said the installation of lighting at the high school and Friendship Elementary must be done within 6 months of the "commercial operation date of the solar facility." The education center, charging kiosks and electric vehicle must be provided to the school district in 36 months of the operation date.

According to Coatesville Solar Initiative (CSI) representatives working on the project, $15 million will be spent locally, and a local jobs program was developed to hire two or three residents who live in the nearby Carver Court development.

CSI representatives said not much has changed from the original agreement presented last year. They said the per kilowatt hour price and the additional benefits for the school district remain the same.

The original agreement between CSI and CASD specified that the school district would pay $0.0765 per kilowatt hours for power at the high school for the first three years of the agreement; for the next seven years the district would pay $0.09 per kilowatt hour; and over the course of the agreement the district would average $0.1024 per kilowatt hours, according to CSI documents before the amended changes to the agreement.

Managing partner Harry "Bob" Keares presented board members with an emotional thanks for approving the final phases of the project.

"I put a lot of effort into this project," Keares said. "With everything that has occurred in the last four years, as you said Neil, (this) is a great night that we can proud of."

After the approval Keares was overly excited about the boards decision, smiling from ear to ear. He told the Daily Local News that many people "lost faith in this project" because of an apparent stalemate with the school district on finalizing the agreement.

He said he is excited to move forward and work with the school district in the future.

"We are developing this project and building it for all the right reasons," Keares said.

According to school district officials, the school board didn't want to rush the final approval of the power purchase agreement because it wanted clean up the language in the contract.

"It was a very complex contract," Campbell said Tuesday night. "I know that some were wondering why it took so long, but just remember good things come when we wait for the best opportunities, and I feel this is a wonderful opportunity for the Coatesville Area School District, for this community and for everyone involved here."

On Aug. 13, 2013, school board members approved the preliminary agreement. It wasn't until September that the power purchase agreement appeared on the agenda for approval and was delayed for unknown reasons.

Many were wondering how much longer the approval for the power purchase agreement would be delayed. Questions about the school board's final decision on the project lingered until an update was mentioned at the school board meeting in July.

School district solicitor James Ellison commented on reports of Keares and his company moving in another direction.

"During the course of negotiations, certain issues presented themselves which the district insisted be resolved prior to voting on this deal. Though CSI insisted that the board vote to approve the proposed deal, even seeking to bring public pressure ... to secure that approval," Ellison said at the July meeting. "The school board wisely refused to proceed until all matters of concern were contractually addressed before a public vote."

At that time, Ellison claimed CSI representatives promised the proposed deal would save the school district between $200,000 to $400,000 per year on energy costs, but were "hesitant to reduce that to writing."

He explained the board continued to delay a final vote, pushing supposedly promised appearances on the agenda, until the school district and CSI could agree on what was originally promised - hundreds of thousands in savings verse the school district paying hundreds of thousands more in energy, Ellison said.

"We agreed to a number last year and because of the chaos that occurred with the school board we are the ones that are still waiting another year," Keares said responding to Ellison's comments at the July meeting. He called Ellison's comments "confrontational."

Ellison said in July the board will continue to discuss and negotiate with CSI to finalize an agreement before a public vote in August.

Following the board's vote, Keares said he expects construction on the project to begin in 2016, but a final date is still pending. He said the site needs to be prepared for the erection of solar panels to help control potential water runoff.

School board member Dean Snyder wanted to make the public aware of the board's plan to share the details of the agreement. He wanted to make sure the board plans to move forward with "providing more details and transparency about this deal."

"I believe it's a very good deal for the district, but we'll be releasing that information as well as the potential risks and how the board is active to mitigate those risks," Snyder said during the meeting.

Campbell responded reassuring Snyder and the public that a joint press announcement is scheduled for a later date.

Keares said the rates using solar will not take affect until the project is complete. The school district will continue to pay its normal provider for power to the high school campus.

"The board has spent an enormous amount of time researching the benefits that this initiative will have for the district," CASD superintendent Cathy Taschner said. "We are excited to move forward and to embark on this project with CSI."

CASD Board Greenlights Solar Deal

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After four-year process, 25-year deal to build solar farm is OKd


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

CALN — After nearly four years of fits and starts, the long-planned solar farm at the high school campus plan finally got a formal approval from the Coatesville Area School District Board of Education, Tuesday night.

The 25-year deal with Coatesville Solar Initiative (CSI) will provide green power to the high school campus and Friendship Elementary School, plus $125,000 for easement rights, a three-story solar education and conference center, an electric car and three electric car charging ports. In addition, new LED outdoor lighting will be installed at the high school and Friendship.

Construction work is expected to start before the end of the year.

The initial rate will be $.0765 for kiloWatt hour for years one through three, and discounted market price for the remaining term of the deal, subject to a specific floor and ceiling for the rates. The rates — for years 4 through 25 — appear to have been the last hurdle in the process, as noted during the July board meeting. The district is expected to purchase 6 megaWatts of power, leaving about 1.2 megaWatts available for other customers.

An emotional Bob Keares, managing partner for CSI, thanked the board for signing off on the agreement, which came as a late addition to the meeting agenda.

Much of the permitting and approval work for the 46-acre project with the township has been completed, and the project has been stuck in limbo with the school district for more than a year. The project initially met local objections — due to worry about the impact of various issues from storm water management to the visual impact on the community. After a lengthy approval process, the township finally agreed to an amended plan in 2012. But the project basically came to a halt when the school district was distracted by the September texting scandal involving former Superintendent Richard Como and the ongoing Grand Jury investigation.

In addition to the funds for the easement — which will allow for CSI to access the site for initial construction and ultimately maintenance — the district will get rate surety for its power needs.

In other news, the board formally approved legal fees from Conrad O’Brien, the legal firm representing the district in the ongoing investigation and grand jury inquiry into the district for a total of $146,197.52. It was unclear during the meeting what period of time the bills — three in total — represent.

Rhoads and Sinon, the former legal counsel for the district billed a total of $29,923.99, largely for work completing the agreement with CSI on the solar energy project.

The board also approved $26,069.60 for Susquehanna Legal Group, the law firm of District Solicitor James Ellison.

New Superintendent of Schools Dr. Cathy Taschner reported on the opening of the district’s schools — she said she visited all three district middle schools, as well as three elementary schools on Monday. She noted that although it came down to the last moments, the summer renovation, repairs and upgrades at district buildings all were completed in time for the opening of school.

She noted that the process of hiring a new principal for Scott Middle School is underway, and in the interim Dave Krakower, the district’s Director of High School and Curriculum Instruction is helping to fill in along with building vice principal Brian Davis.

She also apologized for some delays in hiring of teachers, saying she slowed down the hiring process to make sure everyone had their proper clearances and credentials — and were the best candidates.

Taschner announced that she had accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and in turn, challenged all of the local district police chiefs to join her. She said she hoped to schedule a time for all to complete it together.

Caln OKs Solar Project

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Friday, February 15, 2013

The Coatesville Solar Initiative has received final land use approval from Caln’s Board of Commissioners for a planned 7.2-megawatt solar farm on 46 acres.

“This is a win for our economy, environment, students, and veterans,” said Bob Keares, managing partner for the initiative. “This project is unique in that the solar energy will go to public entities, directly adjacent to the solar farm. Programs that are publicly funded will benefit, as will area taxpayers. CSI has a signed letter of intent from the Coatesville Area School District for a long term power purchase agreement. And now that the project is approved, we can restart discussions with our neighbors, the Veterans Administration Hospital and Chester County Intermediate Unit.”

According to Keares, with Caln’s approval Wednesday night, financing will be their focus as they work with local, national and global investors.

“Our goal right now is to break ground on April 26, part of Earth Day Week,” said Keares. “It’s a true American energy project that really can bring a lot of value to the entire region. We are actually hoping to be submitting some preliminary drawings by next week.”

Keares said that part of the installation could include an educational facility that would allow students of and other community members to educate themselves about the project and its use.

The project will employ more than 50 people during construction, and the equivalent of full time equivalent workers will be needed to run it, officials from the solar initiative said.

During the approval process, which lasted 24 months, the developer’s team worked with the township’s board, professional staff, residents, and county and state regulatory agencies.

To address neighbors’ concerns, buffers on the property were widened, the storm water management system was improved, and the developers will provide public water for neighboring residents.

The Coatesville Area School District has voiced its support for the project throughout the process, due to the developer’s plan to provide solar energy to the district.

“This is going to help the district keep taxes down and keep our educational programs going,” said Superintendent Richard Como.

Keares Electrical Contracting Inc. is a family-owned business in Exton with 100 employees. It has installed over eight megawatts of rooftop and ground mount solar systems. Previous clients are Lowe’s, Home Depot, Michaels, Linens ’N Things, and Wal-Mart.

Follow Daily Local News staff reporter Sara Mosqueda-Fernandez on Twitter @DailyLocalSara.

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