Council OKs solar contract changes 5-1

Published 9:54 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Franklin’s City Council voted 5-1 with one abstention during their Monday meeting to amend the language of its standard contract for Franklin Power and Light customers who seek to install solar panels on their homes. The amended contract removes language that would have required FP&L customers to purchase a homeowner’s insurance policy naming the city as an additional insured.

The change to the contract’s language stems from a recent request by Franklin resident Marshall DeBerry, who is seeking to install a solar panel on his home, located on Smith’s Ferry Road, and interconnect it with the city’s power grid. In his efforts to do so, DeBerry discovered that the terms of the original contract, which the city adopted in 2015, would have required DeBerry to purchase an insurance policy that named the city as an additional insured party. No insurance company was willing to do so because the city did not own DeBerry’s home and thus did not have an insurable interest.

According to City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV, the amended contract will also allow it to be used in the future for anyone who seeks to interconnect any type of renewable fuel generator with the city’s grid. He added that the change in language to the agreement was based on a recent change Dominion Power made to its standard contract with residents who receive their electricity directly from them and wish to install a renewable energy generator.

“What we found is the Dominion agreement has been modified to accept homeowners insurance, so the city, following down the same path, has agreed to accept homeowners insurance for the liability part, so long as the homeowner’s policy had a minimum of $100,000,” Williams said.

Councilmen Linwood Johnson and Greg McLemore were the two dissenting votes on the change, with Johnson abstaining and McLemore voting nay, following a lengthy discussion on the origins of the original agreement. Johnson wanted more information on why it was necessary to have the solar panel connected to the city’s grid and why the original agreement was never put before council for a vote. McLemore wanted more information on how other cities were handling requests for solar panels and if owners of homes valued at under $100,000 would be excluded from pursuing solar energy due to the insurance requirements. Both were in favor of tabling the vote until the council’s next work session.

“The last thing I want you to think is I’m trying to slow you down,” McLemore said to DeBerry. “I want you go get solar as quick as you can so you can prove to everyone that it works.”

In other business, the council voted 6-0 with one abstention to approve its schedule of meetings for fiscal year 2017-2018 and discussed progress on some of the city’s ongoing projects.

Specifically, the council requested an update on Verizon’s plans for a new cell tower to address a lack of service in the vicinity of Hunterdale and Southampton Memorial Hospital. They also inquired about a city-owned farm field located in the Pretlow Industrial Park that had become overgrown with weeds, and discussed a request by Senior Services, the prospective owners of the former Hayden High School building, to name a third party on the purchase agreement.

According to City Manager R. Randy Martin, Verizon is completing their technical evaluation of a site near the Franklin YMCA, where they intend to locate the tower. The next step, he said, should be to determine who will build and lease the tower, Verizon or the city.

As for the farm field, Martin said that the city had contracted the land to various local farmers to have it cropped, but the current farmer has declared bankruptcy.

Now, instead of receiving rent for the property, the city will have to spend money to have the field sprayed or mowed so that it is presentable to new tenants by the fall season.

With the purchase agreement for Hayden High School, the council ultimately voted 6-1 to approve Senior Services’ request to amend their purchase agreement to name Hayden Village Associates LLC as a co-owner of the facility. McLemore was the dissenting vote.

Martin said he didn’t know why they created this organization at the last minute, but that it was not uncommon for developers to create a separate LLC for a major construction project. He explained that Hayden Village Associates would be in charge of the renovations, but that Senior Services would still be the prominent owner and manage the facility once renovations are complete.

The closing date for the sale of the property has been scheduled tentatively for July 18 or 19.