Energy company presents renewable ideas
Jones County Commissioners had two workshops before their March 3 business meeting that demonstrated the vision board members have for the future of the county.
Chairman Chris Weidner called the business meeting to order, and the first agenda item was a zoning request. Zoning officer Tim Pitrowski said the petitioner asked for a conditional use for property located at 2820 Gray Highway for the purpose of allowing a truck depot.
Pitrowski said the property would be used to dispatch freight trucks, and some trucks would be parked on the property.
The staff report for the request stated that the petitioner owns a trucking company and wanted to operate it from the Gray Highway location. The request was approved by commissioners with a unanimous vote of the board members in attendance.
Commissioners Tommy Robinson and Jonathan Pitts were not at the meeting.
Agenda items one and two were tabled. Item three was the bid award for a 15-ton HVAC unit for the Jones County Public Library. Building Maintenance Interim Director Donald White said six companies submitted bids for the air conditioner, but one company went over and beyond in preparing its bid.
White explained that no county funds were being used in the purchase, and it would be paid for by the library. The current unit at the library was not working properly and is causing water damage to areas in the newly renovated building.
He said Greene & Associates representatives went into the attic of the building to make sure the installation of their unit would resolve the problem.
The company was not the low bidder but did have the second lowest bid.
County Administrator Jason Rizner said the company with the lowest bid for the air conditioner did not fully comply with the bid requirements.
Board members voted unanimously to follow White’s recommendation and award the bid to Greene & Associates for a price of $19,504.
The interim director added that projects for additional curbing for the library driveway and a new awning for a side door were also being paid for by the library.
The final agenda item was brought to the board by Jones County Water Superintendent Jeffrey Pehlke. He asked for approval to replace a wrecked truck used by the water department.
Pehlke said the truck was wrecked last year. The truck was totaled, but the insurance check had just been received. The request triggered a long discussion by board members because the county still does not have a vehicle maintenance plan and replacement policy and due to the water department having done without the truck since summer.
Pehlke said the truck was needed and it had been a challenge to work without it.
At the conclusion of the discussion the request was tabled until the April 7 meeting.
Pehlke was the first department head to report. He said the River North Station Eight pumping station was 45 years old and coming apart. The superintendent asked commissioners to consider replacing the pumping station with another Smith and Loveless pumping station. He said the current unit is also a Smith and Loveless, and the dimensions had not changed.
Pehlke was asked to get prices for the pumping station and bring the prices to the next meeting.
Rizner said the AARP Age Friendly designation of Jones County opened up grant opportunities. He asked the board’s permission on behalf of Pitts, who was not able to attend the meeting, to apply for a grant to enhance the community garden at the Senior Center.
Commissioner Sam Kitchens announced that Jones County’s annual community clean up day was scheduled April 4. He said the plan was to partner with agencies to have a tire amnesty day for residents and a shredding day.
Kitchens said Joe Rutledge with Gray Computers would also take surplus electronic devices at the event.
The commissioner brought up concerns about safe water in Jones County properties across the river from the Plant Scherer ash pond. He said he attended a listening session March 2 in Monroe County, and that county was stepping up to help residents with water testing for their wells.
Kitchens said there are 11 wells on the Jones County side within a two-mile radius of the area. He said three of those Jones County wells had been tested and the results did not exceed the level considered safe by the EPA. But he added that environmental groups seem to have different acceptable levels of contaminants.
The commissioner asked for a consensus of the board members to move forward with the testing of those wells.
“I feel strongly that these people have legitimate fears. If it was my well, I would want it tested,” he said.
Kitchens estimated that the cost to test the 11 wells would be under $4,000.
The consensus of the board was to move forward with gathering information about testing procedures and the cost of the testing of the wells and put it on the March 16 agenda for a vote.
Commissioner Daylon Martin said coming up with the vehicle maintenance plan and replacement policy is a necessity.
“We want to make sure we are wise,” he said.
Martin said he wanted to thank the public works employees who responded to the road failure on Greene Settlement Road.
“We got a picture of it one day, and then it was fixed,” he said.
Cherry Street Energy
The first March 3 work session included a presentation by Michael Chanin, the CEO for Cherry Street Energy, which is a renewable power company. He said his company offers renewable power at competitive rates.
Cherry Street Energy constructed a solar panel covered parking canopy to provide electricity for the Sheriff’s Department in Macon in 2015. The project took place when Kitchens was the Facilities Director and Energy Manager for the Bibb County Board of Commissioner and was responsible for 90 county-owned and operated facilities.
At the time, Macon was the first city to take advantage of state legislation that allowed financing for the generation and distribution of energy.
Chanin said Cherry Street Energy installs and maintains the systems.
“We sell solar power, not solar panels,” he said.
He said his company knows how much power it can produce and what they will charge for it. Projects such as the solar canopy are built at no cost to the customer, who is simply sent a bill for the power used. Chanin said solar projects are a 20-year commitment.
What he proposed for Jones County was a 45 KW system at the Government Center that would provide 30 percent of the power used in the building. He said the project could be a start to a path to renewable power.
Chanin said the plan is to start with the small project at the Government Center and increase it when it is beneficial to the county.
Kitchens said he sees three possible sites for solar power in Jones County: the Government Center, Sheriff’s Department and courthouse. He said the only issue is the plan for the facilities for the next 10 years.
Rizner asked about the possibility using decommissioned landfills for solar fields. Chanin said he would welcome that conversation. He said it was a different animal but a good program.
Clean Air Coalition
The second work session was presented by Ray Clark with the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition. He said the purpose of the session was to bring board members up to date with what the coalition means to Middle Georgia.
He said the organization started in 2003 when they negotiated with the EPA to keep Houston and Monroe counties out of non-attainment.
Clark said the solar array around Robins Air Force Base is 600 acres and had an almost immediate pay back. He said electric vehicles would be the new generation of travel.
“Middle Georgia is going to be EV ready because of the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition,” he said.
The speaker said the area has had a steady decline of ozone pollution, and the organization has been called the holy grail of the Clean Air Act by the EPA.
He said the coalition is engaging with elected officials with goals of developing solar permitting across the region, working with the Georgia Department of Transportation with placing EV charging stations at rest stops and working with school systems for a clean energy future.
Jones County has been represented well on the coalition. Kitchens received the Solar Advocate award in 2019, and Martin served as chairman of the coalition.
“This a great group of folks who are seriously committed to making a difference,” Martin said.
In his comments at the conclusion of the board meeting, the commissioner said he was happy that the county was finally looking at solar energy.
“I hope we can take advantage of the brown field program,” he said. “I’m excited to see it.”