Oregon could tap undefined contingency funds this year to conduct a study for wind and solar energy.
Council discussed the matter last month during a debate over reducing undefined contingency funds earmarked for the 2009 budget.
Oregon City Councilman Jerry Peach had requested a reduction in the fund to $25,000 from $50,000.
Peach said the city appropriated and used far less in its undefined contingency fund in the past.
“So I would propose that account be reduced to half that level, to $25,000 in undefined contingencies, rather than $50,000,” he said.
Administrator Ken Filipiak said the fund is typically used for unanticipated emergencies and is barely used.
“We try not to use it. It’s usually money of last resort,” said Filipiak. “But it’s better to have that in there as a safeguard in the event that something does pop up and we need to spend some money quickly.”
The city, for example, used the fund in the past to supplement a sidewalk project that ran over its appropriation by a couple thousand dollars, said Filipiak. The fund was also used to rent pumps last spring during a flood.
“A $50,000 contingency is a pretty small number out of a $16 million general fund budget,” said Filipiak.
Councilman James Seaman said the city could tap the funds for a study on alternative forms of energy, such as wind and solar energy.
“With commodity prices going down, and crude oil and natural gas becoming less expensive on the open market, solar and wind have a hard time standing up to the competitiveness of fossil fuels,” said Seaman. “But on the other hand, if a large grant was available, it would be worthwhile for us to get a decent payback. There are specialists in the area that could give us insight into obtaining some of these grants and determining if they are appropriate for us. None of us are specialists in wind energy. But with some of the money in our contingency fund, maybe we could have someone do a study, enter into a contract, and determine the feasibility of a large industrial windmill. The new federal administration talks as though alternate energies are at the top of the agenda, a high priority. I don’t think we should sit back and just let this go past us. I think we need to explore it and communicate to our residents that we want to commit ourselves to it.”
“If it’s something where it pays us back to where we could cut our electric use, we should at least be proactive enough to consider looking at the possibility,” said Councilman Bill Myers.
“There may be agencies that could provide that kind of information at no cost,” said Peach. “I don’t know that hiring a professional would be any more advantageous than seeking the counsel of those who are already in that business and who are charged with doing those sorts of analyses.”
Filipiak said the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority is planning a wind study at Facility 3, the confined disposal facility in Maumee Bay that is used by the Army Corps of Engineers to dispose dredged material.
“I also am aware that there may be some additional grant funding available in the future for that study,” he said.
The city had used funds to conduct an engineering study on a tower owned by WTVG in Oregon as a possible site for monitoring wind energy, said Filipiak.
“After that study was completed, they had a change in management, and they decided not to allow us to utilize their tower,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of luck finding another tower in the area that’s suitable, because it has to be within a certain proximity to the lake. That’s kind of an important first step – to actually have a place to stick that monitoring equipment and have someone qualified to be able to do it. We’re committed to doing it. I did have a conversation with one of the individuals from Green Energy two to three months ago. He told me he thought there would be some additional funds available, perhaps federal funds, to continue to look at studies for alternative energy with an eye toward some investment along the Great Lakes for future wind turbines. While the idea of doing the studies is a good idea, when we do our municipal budget, while we try to anticipate every purchase for the coming year, obviously, there are things that don’t get included. That would be a perfectly appropriate place to spend contingency dollars, or we could simply pass legislation at that time, and add appropriations. I think we have enough money in our budget to get us through 98 percent of what we’re likely to encounter in 2009.”
Peach moved to reduce the $50,000 amount in undefined contingencies to $25,000, which council approved 6-1, with Councilman Clint Wasserman opposed.
Seaman said he would like the administration to arrange presentations by specialists in the area of wind energy.
“I think that would be good if there was someone willing to come and speak to us about that. I think we just need to know what kind of sites would be worthwhile – someone who knew our terrain pretty well. They could have a quick proposal, and we could consider whether we wanted to invest in it,” said Seaman.
Council President Mike Sheehy said Facility 3 would be a great place to site a windmill.
“You would get the benefit of the wind coming off the Maumee Bay, and also the wind coming from the west - the Maumee River as it spills out into Maumee Bay. So either way, you get the maximum of wind movement. No doubt there are other places in the community. And I wonder if you could drill down enough to get that kind of a foundation at Facility 3. That’s something for the experts to determine,” said Sheehy.