By Heidi Zemach for SCN -
Seward City Council has unanimously approved a new ordinance allowing people to connect their own small renewable energy sources produced by wind, solar, geothermal, biomass or water (tidal or hydropower) energy to the city’s electric grid. It had been several years in the making. At Monday night’s council meeting, the council amended the proposed interconnect ordinance, substituting in new language that now allows those applying for an interconnect, whose project is rejected by the city’s electric department, to appeal that decision to the City Manager, and then to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and finally to the City Council, meeting as a board of adjustment. The burden of proof that their project meets the technical criteria specified by the code, (i.e. that it would not cause damage to the grid or other power users) would be on the applicant—not on the city staff or representatives. The amendment also stipulates a series of time frames for each stage to take place by, thus ensuring that someone’s project is not held up by more than 120 days.
The amendment was intended address an issue suggested at an earlier public hearing by Mike Insalaco, a member of the Seward Energy Committee, who argued that the ordinance should allow expert engineers to have a say in the decision made, at least during the appeals process, as electric department employees are not engineers with expertise in this area.
The Council had tabled the ordinance at its meeting Tuesday, May 27th, to allow the city administration and legal staff time to create the substitute language.
Under the ordinance, customers can only apply to interconnect small alternative energy power sources with a nameplate capacity of 25 kilowatts or less. That’s about enough electricity to power the needs of up to four homes. The city will allow only one alternative energy interconnection per distribution transformer.
Assistant City Manager Ron Long told the council he expected the vast majority of issues to be resolved at the time of the appeal to the city manager, rather than progressing to the next stages. Those few that did could also be resolved in a timely matter, he felt. An amendment proposed by Council member Rissie Casagranda to shorten the deadline for the city manager to address the matter from 30 days to 20 days failed.
In other matters, the council heard about a proposed four-percent bed tax initiative for the Kenai Peninsula Borough from Shanon Hamrick, the executive director for the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. The City of Seward could opt out of the bed tax as it already has a four-percent bed tax, she said. The tax would bring in additional money to the borough for tourism, allowing the borough to spend its funds on other things, such as funding roads, fire departments and schools, she added. It also would bring about a fairness system-wide for those operating hotels and bed and breakfasts in areas with a bed tax, and areas without one, such as outside Seward City limits.
The council passed two resolutions, one authorizing the Seward Chamber of Commerce to discharge fireworks during the July Fourth Independence Day festivities, the second accepting a $9,500 volunteer fire assistance grant for firefighting supplies and authorizing 10 percent local matching funds. The grant allows the fire department to purchase things like chain saws, hose rollers, helmets with eye and hearing protection, water coolers and two portable radios.
Council also recognized Patty Linville on her retirement as Library Museum Director, and Amy Komarek, Spring Creek Correctional Center’s 2014 Employee of the Year. With help from a guest wearing a smiling lemon-head, the city proclaimed Lemonade Day, Saturday June 14th. The city encourages residents to get out and support young entrepreneurs on that day.