Editorial: No consultation

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In a no-brainer of a project the Town Council and administration is considering, Bristol would lease the capped former landfill to a solar company to install panels and generate electricity in exchange for paying rent to the town.

The rent could come in the form of direct payments or savings on the town’s nearly $1 million annual electricity bill. While it’s premature to guess what those savings would be — though a similar project in South Kingstown is expected to generate more than $100,000 a year for that town — there’s little doubt they would be significant. The best part is it will cost the town nothing.

Well, almost.

Whichever of 16 companies that have bid ultimately wins the contract will install its own solar panels and handle all the work. There’s no investment in pricy photovoltaic cells on the part of the town. But there is one significant fee that too often crops up on balance sheets for municipal projects, and is not always necessary — the ubiquitous “consultant.”

The state Department of Environmental Management has recommended Bristol hire an energy consultant to help the town weed through those 16 responses to a request for proposals — the same RFP the town was capable of writing all on its own, without the estimated $10,000 cost of a consultant.

Granted, renewable energy is a complex, complicated industry. There are decisions to be made whether to receive direct payments for a lease, or choose “net metering,” which pays back the town based on electricity produced for the statewide grid. But it all comes down to classic business decisions based on profit and loss, risk and reward — decisions financial experts in the town administration should be capable of making.

If town officials were competent enough to draft an RFP, surely they’re capable of reading the proposals and deciding which is the best deal for the town.

Especially when there are experts in Bristol who could be tapped to advise the town, likely at little or no cost. One such resident is the former administrator of the state Office of Energy Resources, and has led a similar project in Bristol already. Patrick McCarthy managed a project to install solar panels on OLMC School, essentially eliminating the school’s electricity bill. He has degrees in economics, an MBA, and has served as executive director of the state’s Energy Efficiency Resource Management Council, and as the state’s representative to the National Association of State Energy Officials.

It’s a pretty good guess that Mr. McCarthy — who unsuccessfully ran for Town Council as a Republican in 2016 — has some idea how to read energy proposals. There is also an entire university in town. There’s a pretty good chance there’s some expert at Roger Williams University, which pays no local property taxes, who may be able to help the town score the proposals.

Last week, the Town Council approved moving forward with an RFP for a consultant to help the town read the energy proposals. (No word on whether a consultant will be needed to read the proposals submitted by consultants proposing to read the proposals). The town should put the brakes on the latest RFP.

Why spend $10,000 on a consultant who won’t provide any greater expertise than is already available locally? Exhaust local resources first.

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc., email mrego@eastbaynewspapers.com.