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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(10/2013) Well the big story for September was Solar: the town has now agreed to partner with a solar power supplier to build a generating facility at the wastewater treatment plant.

After working with his ‘solar team’ for close to a year and a half, Mayor Don Briggs requested that the Board approve a tentative lease and "power purchase agreement" at the September 3rd Board meeting. He claimed both items needed to be approved within two weeks in order to meet the installation timeline, or the whole program would be placed in jeopardy. No other details of the contracts or conditions had previously been provided to the Board for review or discussion.

At the September 3 Board meeting, we heard presentations from the selected partner, First Solar, as well as an analyst hired by the Mayor to evaluate the proposals that were received, and an attorney hired by the Mayor to negotiate the deal. Unfortunately, no actual documentation was provided, so the Board requested copies of the actual agreements before continuing consideration at the September 16 meeting.

Meanwhile, the town office signed a separate contract on September 10 to begin preparing the installation site at the wastewater treatment plant. Although the dollar amount (at less than $20,000) did not trigger the need for Board approval, there is a second town ordinance requirement that the money is already budgeted for the purpose. The Board has NOT budgeted any money for the installation of a solar plant…

At the September 16 Board Meeting, draft documents were provided, but the Board was informed that negotiations between the supplier and the town were actually still in process. To the Board’s credit, they again deferred consideration until a finalized contract was available for review.

On September 23, a special meeting was held. The final documents were presented and approved by a two to one vote – Commissioners Sweeney and O’Donnell in favor, me opposed, and Commissioners Hoover and Joy absent. The solar plant should be built and on line by the end of the year…

As far as the structure of the deal itself, all of the guaranteed benefits such as government subsidies, the ability to sell solar credits, and a customer obligated to buy ALL power produced are awarded to the plant operator, Standard Solar, and their partner, UGI.

Only one, unguaranteed, 'benefit' is offered to the town - a non-negotiable, twenty year, escalating rate structure based on a commitment to purchase all of the power produced by the new solar array – whether we actually use it or not. The unguaranteed savings are based on twenty year energy market projections that are, in my view, of questionable accuracy.

Who accurately envisioned the current energy market just ten years ago? The town’s current rate is actually going down 8% in October due to increased supplies of natural gas from "fracking" that are used for electricity generation. Check your September electric bill. The program we signed on to only goes up in cost every year.

There is also a real risk that we won’t use all of the power produced until the new wastewater treatment plant comes on line in 2015. We were sold the deal with the claim it would provide 86% of our power needs. But this is only if the Vigilant Hose and Emmitsburg Ambulance companies agree to participate.

To date the Mayor has only asked and has no commitment. If those organizations do not join in, we are at "around 100%" according to the energy analyst who spoke at the meeting. Combine this with the reduced power consumption due to our recent transition to LED streetlights and we could be in trouble. Remember, we have to pay for all the power produced - whether we consume it or not.

Regardless, we will slap ourselves on the back for converting to solar and tout the savings that none will bother to verify. Certainly not in ten years when the "introductory rate" has expired and the non-negotiable escalation has kicked in…

This will be my last regular column in the News Journal. Thank you to the editorial staff and Mike Hillman for giving me the opportunity to share my opinions on the goings on in town government for the last four years!

As always, please keep an eye out for opportunities to contribute and don’t hesitate to share your opinions with your elected officials by sending an e-mail to

Sincerely, Chris Staiger

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