An empty field, a solar vision
RENEWABLE ENERGY BREAKTHROUGH
A solar array is planned on the site of the former sewage lagoons at Peterborough's wastewater treatment plant. The equipment would generate electricity to power the plant and other town buildings.
PETERBOROUGH — A $1.2 million state grant would fund New Hampshire’s largest solar array at the town’s wastewater treatment plant. The project is being designed to generate electricity for the plant and other town buildings, and town officials estimate it could save the town between $400,000 and $800,000 over a 20-year period.
The grant, which was approved last week by the state’s Executive Council, will go to Borrego Solar, a Lowell, Mass., company that would install solar equipment at the site of the town’s former sewage lagoons near the wastewater plant. The equipment would cover about 3.5 acres, according to Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett, and would produce a capacity of 1 megawatt of electricity.
“It will be the largest solar array in the state,” Bartlett said on Friday. “This will be a huge step toward reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Bartlett said the total cost of the array is expected to be about $2.6 million. The grant will give Borrego Solar a guarantee that is expected to enable them to obtain financing for the balance of the project. The town of Peterborough would then sign a contract to purchase electricity from Borrego for a 20-year period.
The contract calls for the town to pay 8 cents per kilowatt/hour to Borrego.
“Right now, we pay 13.9 cents per kilowatt [hour],” Bartlett said. The town now pays distribution and demand charges to its electrical suppliers that would not apply to the power generated on site.
Bartlett said much of the energy generated will go directly to power the wastewater plant. The town will still need to purchase electricity from other suppliers through the grid at night and other times when the array isn’t generating.
When excess energy is produced, it will go into the PSNH electrical grid, and the town will be able to draw that energy from the grid.
“We’ll have the ability to use that energy at our price of 8 cents per kilowatt [hour] at other locations in the town,” Bartlett said.
The grant was approved last week by the Executive Council. Councilor Debora Pignatelli (D-Nashua), who represents Peterborough, said the project is part of a trend.
“The Legislature has mandated that the state reduce its dependence on fossil fuels,” Pignatelli said on Friday. “To me, this project made financial sense, and it made sense in that we need to look for other ways to solve our energy needs. We may not save that much, but we’re getting our energy from some other source than fossil.”
She said the Peterborough project could inspire other municipalities.
“Peterborough having gone through the process sets a template for other cities and towns. They won’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Pignatelli said.
Pignatelli said the project had been recommended by the state’s Public Utilities Commission.
Executive Councilor Chris Sununu (R-Newfields) was the only councilor to oppose the grant. According to published reports, Sununu said the savings to Peterborough were not adequately documented.
“That wasn’t a surprise,” Bartlett said on Friday. “Councilor Sununu has voted against every solar application that the Public Utilities Commission has put forward.”
Peterborough Select Board member Barbara Miller said getting the grant is a milestone for the town.
“It’s very exciting that we’re the first town to do this,” Miller said. “It will save money and more importantly, it will reduce our carbon footprint.”
Bartlett said Borrego is currently going through the design process for the array. He said the company has installed a similar project at the Deer Island wastewater plant in Boston harbor and is the largest installer of solar arrays in Massachusetts.
The project will not require any town investment, since the array will be built, owned and operated by Borrego. The array will go on the site of one of the sewage lagoons that were abandoned when the wastewater plant was built, which will be leased to Borrego.
“It’s a brownfield site that will be reused as an energy producing site,” Bartlett said. “That’s a great innovation.”
Bartlett said the array will be mounted on the ground after the lagoon is filled in. He said no special approvals should be necessary.
“The solar panels are equipment and no structures will be built,” Bartlett said. “We will go through a process with the Planning Board so they are fully aware of what we are doing.”
Bartlett said he hoped to be able to close the lagoon by the end of summer and once Borrego has finalized its design, the installation could begin. He said the array could be complete by the spring of 2015.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.