City to Study Renewable Energy Plan

photo by Riccardo Annandale









By Leslee Kulba- The Buncombe County Commissioners approved entering into a $100,000 contract with Cadmus for the development of a renewable energy plan, half of which would be funded by the City of Asheville. The plan will pace the city and county for reaching their goals of totally eliminating fossil fuel use by 2030 and 2042, respectively. (Incidentally, the proposal’s “Understanding of the Project” reads as if the first deadline were for government; the second, for the public and private sectors.) Because the commissioners had already committed themselves to the goal, discussion would be limited to the appropriateness of the choice of contractor.

Both Interim County Manager George Wood and the county’s first sustainability officer, Jeremiah LeRoy, gave Cadmus glowing reviews. LeRoy said one advantage of working with Cadmus was they had a local office, so travel expenses would only be $2,706.

Commissioners Joe Belcher and Robert Pressley had issues with the project cost nonetheless, but both seemed jaded, resigned to an attitude of que será, será. Belcher said, apologetically, “Some of these amounts just look excessive to me.” He found it curious that only 25% of the contract would pay for the plan itself. Belcher was told the $25,494 not in question was just for writing the report. The rest would go toward workshops, document searches, policy review, impact assessments, and site analysis.

Pressley thought it a mysterious coincidence that all the numbers in the plan totaled an even $100,000, to the penny. “That’s the way it works,” said Belcher shaking his head. Belcher said he didn’t know if Cadmus had imposed caps on its line items or if the firm was “just trying to get all the money.”

Wood and LeRoy called attention to the $2,254 contingency line item. LeRoy said the original bid was for “$97,000 and some change … but we had $100,000, and so we added that money as contingency.” Wood added it would be unusually irresponsible of contractors to bid without a fair idea of contract costs.

What It Buys –
For $4,464, Cadmus will begin the study with phone calls to city and county leadership to establish the scope of the project. The first phase will also include an inventory of past and present programs and an assessment of existing energy sources and demand to establish benchmarks. A Community Advisory Group will be created, and the consultants will hold one-on-one meetings with its members.

For $15,859, Cadmus will hold a visioning session with local leaders and the CAG to shape a professionally-facilitated public workshop later the same day. The second workshop will help Cadmus identify marketing strategies as well as potential roadblocks. Keeping the bid price down, the county will be on the hook for space, equipment, and refreshments.

For $18,954, the consultants will generate a list of policies and programs pulled from its Pathways to 100 library and tailored to local needs. Suggestions from “county and city staff and other relevant stakeholders” will also be considered. Suggested strategies for knocking down barriers will be prioritized in terms of feasibility and bang-for-the-buck. “We may also consider scenarios such as base and aggressive local government action scenarios, a voluntary action scenario, a carbon price scenario, and a 100 percent clean energy scenario,” the proposal reads. Candidate policies and strategies will then be evaluated in a matrix that scores criteria that could include, “local impact, feasibility, cost to city, overall cost, and equity considerations.”

For $19,242, the consultants will work with utilities to establish existing projections for power consumption and planned utility buildout. Various mitigation strategies will be weighted; the proposal emphasizing pecuniary criteria like costs of installation, changes to rates, and economic impact. Since it will take a combination of several measures to zero-out the county’s reliance on fossil fuels, Cadmus will perform a wedge analysis. Commonly used in energy-source transition studies, the analyses aggregate impacts from multiple strategies for meeting targets on-time. Some of the most attractive analyses will be presented as policy options.

For $11,027, Cadmus will identify about 15-20 “high-interest” locations for collecting energy from natural sources. Commercial- or utility-scale solar, wind, biomass, and biogas farms were listed as options. After skimming for fatal flaws, preliminary designs will be drafted for the remaining candidate sites and analyzed in terms of potential output, construction costs, incentives, and the existing regulatory environment.

Lastly, the report phase will include a second round of workshops following the pattern of the first. The most-favored steps will be bundled, and a roadmap will be laid out for achieving each. “This step will also build community support for the renewable energy implementation plan,” the proposal reads. The report will be unveiled in a public presentation, and future steps include broadening the CAG and adopting new ordinances. Any proposed policy changes emerging from the plan will come before the commissioners for a vote.

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