The idea of solar power for county government certainly brought a gleam to the eye of members of the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, but in the end, a proposal by Solar City didn't exactly light up their lives.
The committee voted unanimously to reject a proposal that could have saved the county more than a quarter of its $500,000 annual electricity bill.
The short-term cost savings looked good, but the long-term and potentially unknown consequences seemed daunting.
Legislator and Committee Chairman Bob Bausch worried about Solar City going bankrupt, and without some sort of bond to protect the county's financial liability, taxpayers could be left holding the bag on a nine-acre solar farm the county had no ability to maintain.
"We would have to clean up their mess," Bausch said.
County Attorney Chuck Zambito said Bausch was essentially right.
"It would be their responsibility, but if they go bankrupt, there would be no way to enforce it," Zambito said.
Legislator Maryanne Clattenburg was concerned that 20 years was too long to lock the county into technology that looks good today but may quickly become obsolete. She said she was especially concerned because the company seems so dependent on government grants, which could dry up in a few years.
"When I think of my phone 20 years ago, or I think of my computer 20 years ago -- I just think it's too long of a time to be tied into one technology," Clattenburg said.
County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens expressed concern that the state, which would help finance the project, might eventually reduce the amount of compensation the county would get for hosting the solar farm.
He also noted that the county may yet need to build a new jail and the proposed location of the farm -- nine acres off West Main Street Road, Batavia, next to County Building #2, might be a prime location for a new jail. Putting a solar farm on that land would potentially drive up the cost of a new jail if the county had to purchase nine acres elsewhere.
Solar City would get use of the nine acres to generate electricity to sell to National Grid tax free, legislators noted.
County Manager Jay Gsell said the county also looked at land at the County Airport, but found FAA regulations would prohibit any possible configuration the county could use because of glare, glide path and safety zone issues.
Hens said other companies have contacted the county about solar power and in rejecting the Solar City deal, which the county had to act on by mid-February, the county keeps its options open.