Four local towns look to harness power of the sun; others already have
"Southwestern New Hampshire is on its way to becoming a solar-power mecca, with four communities at various stages of capturing energy from the sun, while others already have.
Photovoltaic — solar — installations have been proposed in recent months in Keene, Chesterfield, Fitzwilliam and Hinsdale. The initiatives are being led by private companies, municipal officials and residents.
Chesterfield’s would likely be the smallest project, focused on providing electricity only for town-owned buildings. The developer of the Fitzwilliam and Hinsdale projects has proposed approximately 30-megawatt, and up to 65-megawatt, systems, respectively.
Keene officials don’t know yet the size and cost of their project, as they try to figure out what would best suit the city and the developer.
Earlier this year, city officials put out bid documents seeking proposals for municipal solar arrays at the city-owned Dillant-Hopkins Airport in North Swanzey; the wastewater treatment facility on Airport Road; the public works department yard at 560 Main St.; the police station and public works building, at 350 and 400 Marlboro St., respectively; Monadnock View Cemetery on Park Avenue; and the transfer station on Old Summit Road.
The proposals were due March 9.
Since then, a solar selection committee, made up of three city staff members and one city councilor, has chosen to evaluate four of the “number of proposals” it received, and interview the developers, Assistant Public Works Director Duncan Watson said last week.
Three of the proposals involve putting up a solar installation in the city and having the municipal government enter into a power purchase agreement or net metering setup with the owner, he said.
Net metering allows owners of renewable energy facilities to sell surplus electricity they produce to the region’s electric grid.
Last month, the N.H. Public Utilities Commission lifted the 100-megawatt cap that had been placed on solar net metering. The cap was designed to limit the number of photovoltaic facilities in the state.
The fourth plan would have the solar array outside the city, but allow Keene to purchase energy generated by the installation, according to Watson.
The proposals are heavy in detail and nuance, he said. And with city officials lacking the experience to determine which plan would be best, they expect to bring on an energy expert as a consultant to help with the decision-making process, according to Watson. The cost to hire the consultant will be less than $5,000, he said.
“Part of the consultant’s work will be to go through the cost and benefits of each proposal and determine which option is our best option,” he said.
The solar selection committee will eventually, with the consultant’s help, recommend a proposal to City Council for approval, he said. The aim is to have a plan ready for councilors to view by mid-September, he said.
The Fitzwilliam and Hinsdale solar projects would be tied into the New England electric grid, and the energy produced sold on the wholesale electricity market.
“We would build, own and operate the project,” Bryan Garner, spokesman for NextEra Energy, said this week.
The company would then sell the power generated by the photovolatic system to utility companies in and out of state, he said.
NextEra acquired the Chariot Solar Project in Hinsdale and the Chinook Solar Project in Fitzwilliam from Ranger Solar earlier this year. Ranger developed the project with MAP Royalty of California, Garner said. NextEra’s job will be to bring it through permitting and operation, he said.
NextEra is based in Florida, and Ranger Solar is based in Yarmouth, Maine.
The Fitzwilliam solar project is planned for a parcel to the west of Route 12 near No. 4 Road, and the Hinsdale installation is proposed to be on about 400 acres between Brattleboro and Monument roads.
Both projects would be on private land.
Project Manager Danielle Changala said both projects are still in their development phases and are following similar schedules to come online by the end of 2019.
The Chinook Solar Project is anticipated to cost about $30 million, while the Chariot Solar Project is expected to be around $50 million, she said.
NextEra officials have reached a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Hinsdale and have started discussions with Fitzwilliam officials about striking an agreement with that town, she said.
Both projects will need approval from the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, and NextEra plans to submit applications for that process at the end of this year, she said.
Solar projects like the ones being proposed for Fitzwilliam and Hinsdale have 25- to 40-year lifespans, Changala said. The company is required through the permitting process to provide a decommissioning plan for the facilities, as well as financial assurance that there will be money to execute the plan, she said.
Meanwhile in Chesterfield, a group of 10 to 12 town residents have come together to hash out a plan for an approximately 90-kilowatt photovoltaic installation to power all town buildings with the exception of the highway department.
Selectman Brad Roscoe, who is working with the group, said solar panels were installed at the highway department building some years ago to power that facility after the town received a grant.
The group has found a location for the new installation on a 1-acre town-owned parcel on the corner of Stage Road and Route 63, he said.
The initiative started earlier this year as an effort to reduce taxes and a way to do something “green” at the same time, he said.
The town spends about $34,000 to $36,000 per year on electricity. By getting its power from the solar panels, the town would save about $17,000 annually, according to Roscoe.
That savings would still be realized even after the town buys the system from a limited liability company that would own the installation for the first six to seven years of its existence, he said.
The group has been working with the Monadnock Sustainability Network to come up with a plan and business model to make the proposal work, according to Roscoe.
To start, the town couldn’t develop and own the system and expect to generate revenue, he explained. As a result, a limited liability company has been formed, and it needs investors to fund the project. Those investors would receive tax breaks, Roscoe said.
The company would operate the solar array and pay a fee to the town to lease the property for it, he said.
After six or seven years, the town would have the option to buy the installation at a fair market value, he added.
The business model being used by the Chesterfield group is similar to the one the Monadnock Food Co-op in Keene followed, Roscoe said.
Last year, a 43.5-kilowatt system was installed on the co-op’s roof.
The system is owned by a limited liability company, and the co-op has a power purchase agreement with the firm to use the electricity generated by the photovoltaic system at a discounted price.
After six years, the photovoltaic array’s ownership will be transferred to the co-op at a fair market price.
Roscoe said the whole Chesterfield project is expected to cost around $350,000 and will require some grant and crowdsource funding to work.
“Solar is a great idea,” he said. “The problem is the finances don’t make any sense unless you take into account all incentives from the federal and state government.”
Across the region, Hinsdale is already home to some photovoltaic systems, and Peterborough has a 944-kilowatt array to power its water treatment plant and other municipal buildings in the community.
Privately-owned solar arrays have also been installed at a business park in North Swanzey."