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Toledo officials question solar panel project delay

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    Workers install solar panels on a roof in Los Angeles in February 2016. A vote on a proposed solar array at Overland Industrial Park in Toledo was dropped from city council’s agenda this week.

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    Councilman Sandy Spang

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Several Toledo City Council members and at least one partner involved in a proposed solar array at Overland Industrial Park are puzzled by why a vote on the project was dropped from council’s agenda this week.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority requested a special-use permit to allow a solar array to be built on its property at the industrial park at 1000 Jeep Pkwy. It’s a project council members have praised for its commitment to the neighborhoods that surround the industrial area.

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Workers install solar panels on a roof in Los Angeles in February 2016. A vote on a proposed solar array at Overland Industrial Park in Toledo was dropped from city council’s agenda this week.

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Dana Inc.’s Toledo Driveline plant plans to buy energy from the solar field, and all revenue would then go to the Toledo Community Foundation to be distributed as grants in the neighboring communities.

Council voted 11-0 on July 17 to expedite the permitting process for the project after Toledo Community Foundation President Keith Burwell told officials speeding up the timeline was critical to securing about $2 million in donated solar panel inverters, key components to the array. First Solar Inc. also plans to donate about $3 million in panels, Mr. Burwell said.

“Solectria has said they’re giving us their brand-new inverters that go on the market on [Jan. 1]. The caveat for having those donated is that they are operational by 12-31-18,” he told council last month. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done, but the key here is we need to expedite time.”

Council voted to waive a requirement that it wait at least 30 days from the Toledo Plan Commission’s hearing on the matter to hold a hearing on its own. The last time that happened was in 2015 when Owens Corning installed solar panels at its downtown location, plan commission Director Tom Gibbons said.

Council members set a special zoning and planning meeting for Monday, at which they recommended approving the special-use permit.

Councilman Sandy Spang said Wednesday that she had “no idea” why the permit request was pulled from Tuesday’s council agenda. She said she was surprised because it was “a simple land-use question” that did not garner push back at Monday’s hearing.

“I did expect it to go to a vote at council. We held a special meeting on Monday. I was of the understanding that this was to move to a vote [Tuesday], and it dropped off of the agenda. I do not know why,” she said. “And I did send a message to the president today asking him.”

Councilman Larry Sykes was perplexed as well.

“It was in our packet to be discussed, and when we sat down to look at the agenda there was nothing to look at,” he said. “All of us are totally confused.”

Council President Matt Cherry was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Community leaders have discussed and worked on the solar project for the past year and a half or so, said Paul Toth, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority president and chief executive officer.

He said the partnership with the port authority, community foundation, and private businesses will lead to greater reinvestment because it benefits a low-income area and displays solar panels in action.

“We think we can use it as a showcase for others who want to see how this type of business model works,” he said of the electrical setup.

Mr. Toth said there is a sense of urgency to wrap construction on the project before winter hits. He was unaware why the scheduled permit vote did not occur.

“If it’s a one-week delay, it’s not going to be detrimental. If it’s a two-month delay, we’re going to have a big problem,” Mr. Toth said.

He added that he is “puzzled” by the delayed vote but optimistic it will not affect the project.

“Clearly, this came out of left field from our perspective. The contractors we’re working with are good, respectable local union contractors,” he said.

Staff writer Ryan Dunn contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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