COLUMBIA — The City Council approved a lease at its meeting Monday evening to bring solar power equipment to Columbia.
The lease was signed with Omaha-based Free Power Co., which provides customers with solar panels to lower the cost of energy.
Connie Kacprowicz, spokeswoman for the Columbia Water and Light Department, said Tuesday the company can now continue the process of site selection with the city on Jan. 3, after which it will deliver the solar panels and later begin installation.
Kacprowicz said a likely site for the project under consideration is the department's West Ash Street pumping station at Bernadette Drive and Tiger Lane.
Kacprowicz said Water and Light is responsible for site preparation such as fencing or necessary tree removal and for connecting the solar panels to the city's power grid.
The city's initial investment will be the money spent on site development, Kacprowicz said.
"If they don't deliver power, then we don't pay for it," she said.
The lease stipulates that Free Power Co.'s solar panels will produce 6,000 megawatt-hours annually by Sept. 30, 2011, and 12,000 megawatt-hours annually by Sept. 30, 2012. The city will pay a monthly leasing fee of $54 per megawatt hour.
“The benefit is enormous — solar power at a cheap price,” Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said at the council meeting.
But although the agreement passed 6-1, council members raised questions about Free Power Co.
“There is concern because we didn’t get a lot of information, and there are unanswered questions." Hoppe said.
Mayor Bob McDavid voted "a timid yes" while other council members expressed apprehension about the quick time frame and lack of information.
"It seems to be high pressure tactics to get it done and get it done now without a plan," Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, who opposed the measure, said at the meeting.
"They are telling us how fast the horse is but we can't see the race," Fourth Ward Councilman Darryl Dudley said at the meeting.
Water and Light Director Tad Johnsen said the department has been talking with Free Power since September or October, though the council has only been discussing this issue for about a month.
Johnsen said Wednesday the department did not initially know that the agreement had to be signed by Dec. 21, but as the process developed Free Power Co. wanted an agreement for tax incentives.
Despite the concerns, council members did express their trust in the Water and Light department.
"I don't like making decisions when I don't have answers, but I have confidence in Water and Light," Nauser said Tuesday.