CAMDEN By BRADLY GILL
Representatives from Scenic Hill Solar, LLC and Entergy sparred at the Camden City Council meeting Tuesday as the board of aldermen passed a resolution authorizing Mayor Julian Lott and the city’s water and sewer commission to execute a Power Purchase Agreement with Scenic Hill Solar.
The resolution passed with a 5-to- 2 vote, with Aldermen Joe Askew and Terrie Smith being the opposing votes. Council member Marvin Moore was not present at the meeting Tuesday.
Ouachita County and the City of Camden have been negotiating with Scenic Hill Solar about a possible solar array with the ability to purchase power for a period of 30 years. The amended contract is now for 20 years with an option to purchase after six years at $710,000 or fair market value.
City Attorney Michael Frey said the county is still looking to provide a location for the plant to be placed.
Entergy Director of Business and Economic Development Danny Games was at the meeting said that the 5.6 cents per kilowatt hour being quoted by Scenic Hill was “incomplete,” and was only part of the charges county and city entities would incur.
“The only piece of information we were given was related to the medical center (Ouachita County Medical Center). The medical center was cited at 5.6 cents per kwhr. That’s an energy cost,” said Games. “There are really two primary buckets of your electricity cost: There’s the source of energy that can be nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydro, solar; and then there’s also the cost to deliver and then serve that energy to you.
“What a solar opportunity provides you is the opportunity to supplant some of that energy – not all, some. But the entire energy and service cost is still on your local utility such as Entergy Arkansas. So the 5.6 cents that was presented to the medical center and was depicted to illustrate their savings over the year – I believe it was projected at something around 23 or 24,000 dollars in savings. As if that were your net cost….that is very incomplete.”
Games said that his company ran billing across 2018 “as if this contract had been in place,” and he stated that OCMC’s cost would be $56,000 more per year based on current rates. Games said that was a conservative estimate and it could be closer to $109,000 a year and that OCMC would pay “all in.”
When Frey asked Games about energy rates, Games said that it was less than two cents, but admitted that it was not locked in and rates “could go up or down.”
When Frey asked if rates went up in January of 2019, Games said, “there was a tax credit that rolled off.”
Bill Halter, CEO of Scenic Hill Solar asked Games, “Did you use 2018 or 2019 rates in your analysis. You used 2018, not 2019…What’s the historical rate of increase in prices of electricity rates in the United States over the last 65 years Mr Games? Three point four . What percentage of increase is their in this contract Mr. Games? Zero. Mr. Games analyzed the worst possible bill of the four.”
When Games said that was the only bill provided, Halter replied, “That’s interesting. You’re talking about a contract that doesn’t even apply to this group of people. You’re talking about the county medical center. This body is not voting on the county medical center. This body is voting on the city’s bills and the water and sewer bills.
Halter said the energy charges saved in 2019 with the solar plant would save the city money and save a growing amount over every year of the contract due to the locked rate.”
“I’ve never been in a circumstance when Entergy has gone out to grab a customer and we’re invited to show up and criticize their contract. Particularly well along,” said Halter. I’m also ethically stunned that you would come before this body and tell them their rates did not go up in January.”
Games said, “We will gladly and acting with all transparency and integrity provide you(Camden) specific details to you as a customer and prefer that someone who is not even in the electric utility business speak on our behalf.”
“Today, another municipal entity agreed to enter into a contract and I understand when you’ve been a monopoly your entire existence you don’t like to have alternative suppliers of electricity.
After the outcome of the vote Halter said:
“It’s awesome. I think it’s great for the community. We’re excited to put together a solar power plant for Camden. Save the citizens money, lock in their electricity prices, while their Entergy prices are going up steadily year by year.
“This year, they went up dramatically as you can go look at you own bill and see. This provides price stability for the community, gets local economic development as we build this power plant here, adds to the property base tax of the community, adds local construction work as we do this and, of course, the alternative is just the ‘same old same old’ in which Camden’s electricity bills continue to go up.”
In response to Entergy’s claims, Halter said, “There’s a couple of places where he was just factually inaccurate…Every one of your readers can look and see whether their electricity bill went up in 2019 as compared to 2018. He told this body that that didn’t happen…then he tried to say it was only because of a change in the tax law. That’s not true. The reality is everybody’s electricity bill in Camden went up this year, and your readers can check it for themselves.
After the meeting Games, said,
“We just feel like the information that has been provided thus far has been very incomplete. There is much more detail that can be provided. We only got engaged in this about three weeks ago, regrettably. I think had we been given a little more time, we could have provided much more detail. I’m really concerned for the city and I think they are going to come to realize this is going to be a challenge.”
In other business during Tuesday’s meeting:
• Ordinance No. 10-19, an ordinance amending the Camden Code in order to define “Transient Vendor” passed unanimously. Under the new ordinance, food trucks will be charged $50 from the city and $2 per employee for a license as opposed to the $600 dollars fee that transient vendors were previously charged.
• Resolution No. 22-19, a resolution setting a date for a Public Hearing on a petition to abandon a Gallop Street located in the W. L. Ellis Subdivision also passed with the date being the next city council meeting.
During his mayor’s report, Lott encouraged the residents of the city to keep Camden clean and dispose of trash in proper ways as the city has spent a lot of man-hours cleaning up trash.
Also, Yolanda Lewis – administrative assistance for Public Works Director Shamir Dorsey – announced that the splash pad at Carnes Park would be open on Friday, May 17, and that the community pool is on track to be opened by Memorial Day – May 27. Lewis also said that administrators of the pool are seeking lifeguards.
“I want to encourage all of our faith groups, all of our leaders in our community to get our children as active as you possibly can, to do the right things so they don’t have time to do the wrong thing.”