Peterborough

Solar array project moves forward

Special Town Meeting voters unanimously approve energy plan that’s expected to save town money

  • Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett speaks at a Special Town Meeting on Tuesday where voters unanimously approved plans for a solar array to power the town's wastewater plant.

    Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett speaks at a Special Town Meeting on Tuesday where voters unanimously approved plans for a solar array to power the town's wastewater plant. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett speaks at a Special Town Meeting on Tuesday where voters unanimously approved plans for a solar array to power the town's wastewater plant.

    Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett speaks at a Special Town Meeting on Tuesday where voters unanimously approved plans for a solar array to power the town's wastewater plant. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett speaks at a Special Town Meeting on Tuesday where voters unanimously approved plans for a solar array to power the town's wastewater plant.
  • Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett speaks at a Special Town Meeting on Tuesday where voters unanimously approved plans for a solar array to power the town's wastewater plant.

PETERBOROUGH — Voters were unanimous in their endorsement of solar energy on Tuesday, giving the Select Board the go-ahead to negotiate a 20-year lease with a company that plans to build the largest solar array in the state, on the site of one of the town’s former sewage lagoons off Pheasant Road.

The solar installation, to be built by Borrego Solar of Lowell, Mass., is expected to generate 1 megawatt of electricity annually — enough to run the town’s nearby wastewater treatment plant, and perhaps provide excess that can be directed to the PSNH electrical grid and credited to other town buildings.

At Tuesday’s Special Town meeting on the lease plan, Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett said the town will pay Borrego 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity. Because the town will not have to pay distribution fees, it will save about 6 cents per kilowatt hour over its current rate. Select Board Chair Barbara Miller said the town could expect to save between $24,000 and $57,000 per year.

The Select Board will now finalize a 20-year lease agreement with Borrego, which will own and operate the solar array. Borrego received a $1.2 million grant from the N.H. Public Utilities Commission, which is required to help fund renewable energy projects. That grant will pay part of the $2.6 million construction cost and having a 20-year power-purchase agreement that guarantees Peterborough will buy the electricity generated will enable the company to get financing to cover the balance.

Voters had few questions on the project. Lockard Row asked if the town had looked into comparative pricing from other solar energy providers. Bartlett said the PUC grant requires the applicant to work with an identified partner, and Borrego and the town had been working together throughout the lengthy grant application process.

“There’s not another solar entity in New Hampshire that could match what they do,” Bartlett said about Borrego. “I believe we got a good deal.”

Alan Zeller said he was glad that utility companies are required to subsidize renewable energy projects through the Public Utilities Commission grants.

“It’s better than having them build a new power plant,” Zeller said.

Voters unanimously endorsed the proposal in a show of cards. Town Administrator Pam Brenner said after the meeting that it was the first time she could recall a unanimous vote on a significant town warrant article.

On Wednesday, Chris Anderson, the chief technology officer for Borrego and a Peterborough resident, said he and Bartlett first started discussing the possibility of a solar array at the wastewater plant in 2008.

“We’re very excited and very moved by the strong support,” Anderson said. “It’s great that we’ve found a way to make this project happen. It’s putting Peterborough on the map in terms of renewable energy in the state.”

Anderson said the lease agreement is nearly ready for approval by the Select Board and once that’s done, Borrego will be finalizing its design plan. The array will cover about 3.5 acres and will have roughly 3,100 solar modules.

“We’ll be working out engineering and permitting over the next three months,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we’ll be ordering equipment in mid- to late September and getting started, before the harsh weather comes.”

The PUC grant requires that the project be complete within 18 months, so the company is working with a June 2015 deadline for completion, which Anderson said should not be a problem.

At the meeting, Bartlett said the town has contracted with Mathewson Construction to fill in the sewage lagoon nearest to the wastewater plant, which is where the array will be constructed.

That work is expected to start Aug. 1, Bartlett said on Wednesday, and will take about four months. The cost of filling the lagoon is covered through loans and grants from the USDA Rural Development Agency that were obtained in order to build the wastewater plant. Bartlett said the agency’s policy is that loan money is spent first, so the town is now using grant funds for the lagoon closure.

Bartlett said the array will be surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire.

The solar array is the latest in a series of renewable energy projects that have generated notice for Peterborough.

“Over the past eight years, the town has reduced its dependence on fossil fuels by more than 75 percent,” Miller said at the meeting. “We are continually looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions and to save money for you, our taxpayers.”

On Wednesday, Bartlett said the project will reinforce Peterborough’s reputation as a leader in renewable energy projects.

“Solar energy projects in New Hampshire are few in number,” he said. “This is a breakthrough project in the area. Our biomass projects, which now include the community center, have dramatically reduced our use of home heating oil.

The electric power we purchase on the open market with several other municipalities and businesses is all renewable energy via Wind Renewable Energy Credits. Peterborough has recognized that diversity in energy sources is a critical component of our overall energy planning.”

Bartlett said he has been contacted by other towns interested in developing similar projects and Anderson said Borrego is in the process of applying for grants with other area towns.

Bartlett said he was pleased by the unanimous vote.

“I believe this clearly demonstrates the community’s commitment to renewable energy and reduced dependence on fossil fuels,” he said.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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