Clewiston adapting to 21st-century power grid

CLEWISTON — City commissioners have begun to rewire Clewiston’s policies to bring them into sync with the evolving 21st century power grid. The city is part of the Florida Municipal Power Association (FMPA), and their “net metering” service schedule is being updated for the first time since 2009, specifying fees from now on for anyone installing solar or other generating capacity to interconnect with the city’s electric utility system.

That’s how residents will get credit on their electric bills for installing solar panels or connecting windmills, for example, in a future when anyone can partially power their own residence and contribute to the grid if they generate more than enough. It’s a future that’s actually here for some already.

Also during their meeting Oct. 21, the commission voted 5-0 to take the first step toward investing an estimated $286,000 for an agreement with the Florida Municipal Power Association for upgrading the city’s “Advance Metering Infrastructure,” or AMI. The first phase of this deployment costs $101,635 and will be completed by Quanta Technology LLC and paid for by FMPA, with the city to reimburse the association. Initial cost estimates are: Phase 2, $125,000; Phase 3, $50,000 more.

Cairo Venegas of FMPA gave a presentation at the Aug. 19 city commission workshop regarding these plans, which will involved advanced electronic metering that’s mostly automated.

The initial cost covers these components: an AMI Readiness Assessment/Process Gap Analysis report; an AMI Smart Grid Priorities report; a Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) for AMI; an initial vendor list for installations; and the initial RFP (Request for Proposals) specifications for a turnkey project. The commissioners were given a 22-page brochure explaining the work and listing the engineers involved in the first phase.

Resolution No. 2010-72 approves the City of Clewiston Net Metering Service Rate Schedule, Application and Standard lnterconnection Agreement for each net meter. Tier 1 installations still will be free. Tier 2 went from $200 to $320; Tier 3, from $200 to $470; and, for a Tier 3 study fee, now there’s a required deposit of $5,000. (If the utility should determine that an interconnection study is necessary, the customer must pay the actual cost, but overpayments are refundable and overcharges will be billed.)

This is for applications for “Interconnection of Customer-Owned Renewable Generation Systems,” such as solar installations. There also must be proof of general liability insurance in the amount of $1 million for Tier 2 generators or $2 million for Tier 3; those insured amount requirements are rising tenfold and quadrupled, respectively.

Mayor Mali Gardner asked whether there were any guidelines for installation of solar panels. “Some people line their entire property with solar panels, and … I don’t know enough about this.”

City Manager Randy Martin responded: “We can report back on an assessment of our current codes and requirements, but it would not preempt zoning or any code requirement that we have for anything of this nature. There are state codes … this action you’re taking tonight would not affect that. We haven’t been faced with this yet.”

Mayor Gardner worried out loud, “Look at Babcock ranch. They have acres and acres of solar panels. We’ve only dealt with it for maybe a few roof panels here in town.”

Mr. Martin promised staff would “look and see if there’s anything the city needs to do to tweak our regulations.” He noted, though, when the mayor asked if that needed to be done first, “They could put panels on now … but this allows them to get net metering credit.”

Other business
The commission also approved:
• A resolution affirming a partial settlement agreement and mutual release in the city’s lawsuit against Johnson-Prewitt & Associates Inc., or JPA. The resolution states that neither side admits any liability but they have decided to settle all disputes in Count 2 of a JPA counterclaim in the matter, the city will pay the firm $20,350, and neither party will sue the other over anything arising from Count 2. Other parts of the lawsuit still are pending, and the commission conducted a closed-door session 20 minutes long to discuss it later in the meeting.

• First reading of an ordinance abandoning a portion of the right-of-way adjoining the property of Stephen and Norma Schneider, 800 W. Royal Palm Ave., with deed restrictions.

• Two resolutions, authorizing payments of $1,449 and $22,198 to Community Asphalt Corp. for the hot spot and overlay paving projects completed this year.

• A resolution authorizing issuance of a five-year promissory note to First Bank of Clewiston for a principal amount of $300,000, which will go for the purchases of golf carts and a new city vehicle for Mr. Martin, among other items.

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