Island Issues

Before Solar Panel Activity Heats Up Local Officials Need To Study Other Cities

Before Solar Panel Activity Heats Up Local Officials Need To Study Other Cities

Solar panel conceptBefore the City of Fernandina Beach gets too excited about a proposed solar panel farm that Mayor Johnny Miller says could help lower electric bills, it might want to take a look at other communities that held out similar hopes only to see them turn dark, particularly one just a couple hundred miles north of Amelia Island.

In recent news reports Mayor Miller says a news solar panel farm could be coming to town, and it would help lower electric bills for those living in Fernandina.

Mayor Miller said Florida Public Utilities brought the idea to the city.“FPU is committed to putting together a project so they can provide solar energy that provides power to bring the rates down inside the city limits,” said Miller.

In a news item Miller said the solar farm would be placed at the airport. “We want it to be aesthetically pleasing,” he said, adding he’s not sure how many panels FPU would put on the site. Miller said he’s not sure how much the project would cost because the power company is still in the beginning planning stages, but said FPU would pay for it.”

The mayor said once a design is figured out and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, the project will go back in front of the Fernandina Beach commission for final approval.

Mayor Miller is quick to jump on any environmental bandwagon that sounds promising and I’m sure his intentions are good. However, before donating land or committing any other local resources to such a venture it is important for the city commission to ensure that the idea is viable and one that makes financial sense for the residents of the city.

Remember California’s Solyndra, where in 2011 the solar panel manufacturer went bankrupt after taking in more than $500 million from taxpayers and private investors after much fanfare from the Obama Administration?

Nine months ago, following a fact-finding trip to Dublin, Ga. — a small town a little more than 200  miles northwest of Amelia Island — to research an article marking the one-year anniversary of Dublin City Schools’ solar energy project, Georgia Public Policy Foundation Vice President Benita Dodd wrote a policy commentary about the  mess she discovered there.

“What started out as a commentary on Sunshine Week and the solar project’s anniversary led to a trail of lofty projections, broken promises, unpaid bills, questionable math and taxpayers left on the hook,” reported the GPPF’s newsletter last week. Ms. Dodd broke the story in March of the failure of Mage, a solar company that set up shop in Dublin, Georgia with great fanfare in 2011.

And until just recently nobody except Ms. Dodd, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board member, had reported on the mess involving the solar industry in Dublin.

Now that the sun has set on the solar project, news outlets have been forced to report on the wreckage in the small Georgia town finding it difficult to ignore Ms. Dodd’s investigative report where she concluded: “Today – less than five years later – Mage’s Dublin facility is shuttered. Its parking lot is deserted, a promised solar academy shut down, too……. and there is zero chance of Mage fulfilling its obligations. It came nowhere near 350 jobs; an Open Records Act request of the required progress reports for the grant recipient revealed that 54 was the highest number of jobs created, in 2013.”

This week, the Dublin, GA Courier-Herald newspaper finally covered the project, with an above the fold front page headline: “Solar Panels save $100,000 per year, cost taxpayers $300,000 per year.”

The failure of the project involves the local high school, bonds, state grants, jobs, local-option sales taxes and a town’s taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars. According to the GPPF newsletter it was March 11, 2013, that Dublin City Schools in Laurens County broke ground on a 4,000-panel, 1.1 megawatt solar energy array to power the high school.

“The panels were provided by Mage Solar USA. Just over four years ago, the German-based company chose to establish its North American headquarters in Dublin.

“Mage was persuaded with a $1.25 million OneGeorgia EDGE grant in December 2010, and committed to create 350 jobs and to spur the investment of capital in the amount of $25 million within 60 months.” The total potential value of state incentives (including job tax credits, port tax credits, sales and use tax exemptions, QuickStart training and the EDGE grant) was estimated at $12,444,500, according to the Department of Economic Development.

“Solar panels downtown, at several other Dublin businesses and outside the police department, reflect community commitment to solar and Mage,” said Ms. Dodd. Mage’s panels were installed by June 2013 at the high school, which pays $300,000 a year to lease the array.

The bonds for the school project, issued by the city and development authority, were financed by a local option sales tax. After the project failed that led to a Standard & Poor’s BBB credit rating “with negative implications.”

The $3.7 million system was projected to reduce power bills by $3.5 million over a 25-year lease agreement. Unfortunately, as Georgia PSC Commissioner Stan Wise pointed out: “By the end of the agreement, Dublin taxpayers will actually pay $7.5 million in SPLOST sales taxes for debt service, and this does not include other costs such as operations and maintenance and insurance.”

“Using simple math, the inconvenient truth is that $7.5 million in costs minus $3.5 million in savings (generously using their numbers), still leaves the Dublin-Laurens County taxpayers with a $4 million dollar loss,” Wise noted in the GPPF report.

While the Fernandina project may not be as ambitious as Dublin’s it still would be a good idea for city officials to investigate how similar solar projects have worked out in other communities before acting, and then report their findings to the community.


Hey Kid! Pay For Your Own Coloring Books: “Safe spaces” — where students can shield themselves from uncomfortable or dissenting viewpoints — are the rage on college campuses these days but I’m sure they’re not too popular with dads who are picking up junior’s college tab.

At Ivy League’s Brown University, a school administrator explained that safe spaces are intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. At Brown the room is equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies — objects even the most mature “scholar” will recall from pre-kindergarten days.

The undergraduate tuition at Brown for academic year 2015-2016 is $62,046 that includes room, board and required fees. If I discovered junior whimpering in a safe space playing with crayons, Play-Doh and watching videos of puppies, I’d cut off all funding and bring him home offering the following alternatives: Instead of coloring books, paint the house; instead of Play-Doh, you can mix and pour cement; and instead of watching puppy videos you can volunteer at the Humane Society and clean out the kennels of what the university is obviously teaching.

Also how are these “safe spaces” really “safe”? If Brown and other universities are unsafe for one student, then why aren’t they unsafe for all students. And aren’t “safe spaces” incompatible with the objective of a university — the exchange of opposing ideas.

And from campus to campus these immature twits are hurling vile insults at professors and administrators causing some to retreat, resign, or grovel. However, I can’t think of a group of alleged scholars who more richly deserve to reap what they have sown.

In harshly criticizing the creation of “safe spaces” on college campuses famed legal expert and attorney Alan Dershowitz, says: “A fog of fascism is descending quickly over many American universities.”

“These are the same people who claim they are seeking diversity,” Dershowitz told Fox News last Thursday. “The last thing these students want is real diversity, diversity of ideas. They may want superficial diversity, diversity of gender, diversity of color, but they do not want diversity of ideas.”

“It is the worst kind of hypocrisy,” he said. “They want complete control over their personal lives, over their sex lives, over the use of drugs, but they want mommy and daddy dean to please give them a safe place, to protect them from ideas that maybe are insensitive, maybe will make them think.”


A New Downtown Hotel: The online NCFL Independent reported that the company that owns and operates the Hampton Inn in downtown Fernandina Beach said that it is seeking to build a hotel with four-stories and 80 rooms near the riverfront in the city’s historic district. The Park Place Hospitality Group based in Mooresville, NC has launched discussions with city officials and hired local architect John Cotner for the upscale 70,000 square-foot boutique hotel on the southeast corner of Alachua and Front Streets that will also include a pool and lounge. The hotel would be privately owned and operated. According to the Independent, the L-shaped parcel sits between the Crab Trap and Salty Pelican restaurants and would have parking access along N. 2nd St. The hotel property was once considered a site for high-end townhouses but those plans never got anywhere. Let’s hope city officials and local tree-huggers don’t interfere with this plan.


Welcome To JAX! What’ll You Have? I read that a marketing study recently commissioned by an organization with ties to the city of Jacksonville asked tourists, businesspeople and others visiting the city what their most lasting impressions were. Ranked in the top three was crime. Following on the heels of that dismal study was another report ranking Jacksonville as one of the worst cities in the U.S. for pedestrian safety. So if they don’t shoot, rape or rob you, they’ll run over you.


Question Of The Week: The Obama Administration often warns that insulting Islam, burning the Quran, drawing a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad, etc. can invite a backlash and win new recruits to ISIS. But if Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, why would insulting Islam invite more terror?


Best Christmas Quote: “What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.” — Phyllis Diller.


Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Hats off to Slider’s Seaside Inn which will host some 50 senior citizens from Quality Heath and the Jane Adams House to a three-course meal along with live entertainment by The Macy’s this Tuesday, December 29 from 6-8 p.m. Slider’s employees have also been volunteering at both centers and will provide the attending seniors with suits and gowns for their special event. And if you like to eat, paint and drink all at the same time then check out Mondays at Slider’s which has launched a “Wine and Canvas” painting event every Monday night that can handle up to 35 people and so far has been booked solid at $25 a person. Call ’em at 904/ 277-6652. During the Dickens on Centre Street activities each time I went looking for a Scotch egg from the cart of Melanie Peterson Grimley, wife of Brian Grimley of Lulu’s at the Thompson House, I either couldn’t find her or she was sold out, so I called the 11 South 7th Street downtown restaurant this past Wednesday and ordered a couple to take home. They were as good as I recall them being when I last ate one some 15 years ago. To get your own call ’em at 904/432-8394 or just go and eat them there. The Centre Street Alley Cat is quickly becoming one of the hottest spots downtown to listen to music, eat and gather with friends. In addition o the traditional Thursdays and Saturdays with tuxedo-clad piano man John Springer, Wednesdays now features popular island guitarist and singer Dan Voll during what the place calls “”Wino Wednesdays”, that offer one-half off bottles of wine. And from 5:30-7:30 p.m., before Dan starts strumming and singing, folks can gather in the refurbished upstairs to enjoy special wine tastings and snacks. While there make sure you try what I think is the best chili on the island by Chef Joe Riley, whose concoction will cause a little sweat to break out on your forehead like proper chili is supposed to do. The team of Janet Vining, Becky Roberts, Amy Baker, Vicki Jones and Garrett Franklin will make sure your glass is never empty and inform you about the evening’s menu specials. Call ’em at 905/491-1001. And speaking of fun stuff, congratulations are in order for the following Dickens on Centre Street window decorating contest winners: Public voting, first prize: Pajamalife; Public voting, second prize: Twisted Sisters!; Public voting, third prize: Villa Villekulla Toy Store; Official panel prize: Wadsworth’s. Each winner will be awarded with a donation to his or her charity of choice with Pajamadave Voorhees of Pajamalife suggesting his award money be directed toward designing and manufacturing helmets and goggles for pelicans who may suffer head trauma when diving for meals, but more about that in the next issue of the Amelia Island News-Wrecker scheduled for next spring.


Christmas Break: This blog will take a holiday break and publish its next issue Friday, January 9, 2016. In the meantime I hope all of its readers — left, right, center and indifferent– have a happy Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year.





jimbo - 21. Dec, 2015 -

i wouldn’t expect anything less, from the nebish-nerd-goofball we just relieved of city manager duties – were you not aware that according to his resume his only prior experience was flipping burgers at McDonalds

Ken Sparks - 21. Dec, 2015 -

Come on Man – He’s just parroting the ignorant machinations of our incompetent and fraud perpetuating Utilities Manager


Dave Lott - 18. Dec, 2015 -

Dave, what, no mention of the Jaguars this week? LOL! Hope you and the family have a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2016. Enjoy your time off.

john fulton - 18. Dec, 2015 -

Dave – You can’t store solar energy or wind energy. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow so while we taxpayers continue to subsidize these industries, fossil fuels will continue to provide the energy we need notwithstanding the objections of the Obamaphiles.

Jeanne Wyatt - 18. Dec, 2015 -

If there were a “Like” button I’d check that beside John Goshco’s comment. I’ve driven out west quite a bit with those farms and know some of the dangers.

Also, Alley Cat is nice to go to but has no elevator and even though I’d like to try their chili (a favorite of mine) I’ll never make it upstairs. Love John and Dan’s music.

John Goshco - 18. Dec, 2015 -

I’ve been a fan of solar energy since I lived in Denver in the 1970s. Unfortunately, even their high altitude and year-around clear skies won’t support widespread solar power without some sort of subsidy / rebate / tax incentive program. The constant Florida overcast / haze doesn’t compare to the clear, brilliant skies that many western states experience. Maybe the local solution is just to rent airport property to FPU and let them make the investment. If it’s a sound financial proposition, they won’t need external financial backing.