The sun shines on Peterborough solar future
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.
Everyone likes a good story, and this is a good story about town government and benefits to the taxpayers.
In 2007 a number of us took a bus ride to the new Portsmouth Library – a green building with next-generation library functionality i.e. digital services. In passing, the head librarian, our tour guide, mentioned that Portsmouth was thinking of a solar powered wastewater plant. “Great idea,” I thought as we here in Peterborough were designing our new wastewater plant. The first thing I did when I returned was ask our DPW Director, Rodney Bartlett, to connect with his Portsmouth counterpart. He, along with Town Administrator Pam Brenner probably rolled their eyes.
As the wastewater plant project progressed, I would pester Rodney about progress about every six months. About a year ago, I heard about an opportunity for funding from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission. When I referred the link to Rodney and Carol Ogilvie, I was pleased to learn that they already had prepared and submitted our application.
This past fall we learned that we were one of two finalists for the grant, the other being Dartmouth College, a formidable competitor. When I read the grant application written in partnership with our private sector partner, Borrego Solar Systems, via local resident, Chris Anderson, I could not imagine how we would not be awarded the grant. It was the best grant proposal I have ever read. But Rodney advised that many factors were involved, not the least of which was “politics.”
Then a few months ago we learned that the PUC would recommend to the governor and the Executive Council that we win the award. The Council consists of five members from different parts of the state. To pass proposals that come through them you need both a majority vote of the Council and the vote of the governor. I knew that our councilor, Debora Pignatelli, would vote our way. I first met Councilor Burton a long time ago and felt confident that he would go our way. Unfortunately, he passed away in the fall and his position has not been filled. It was down to four votes, a 2-2 tie and we lose the grant. Then Councilor Sununu opposed all the solar projects submitted at the December governor and Council meeting. How is that fourth vote going to go, I worried – urging all my statewide green energy networked folks to cross their fingers.
It was quite a scene at the governor and Council meeting last week. Councilor Sununu strongly opposed the proposal as reported in the Union Leader and its editorial. But we prevailed, by a 3-1 vote.
So, some statistics on the project:
Approximately 1.0 megawatts of power produced – the largest solar array in New Hampshire. By comparison, the second largest to date is the Manchester Airport Parking garage at 500 kwh estimated actual dollar energy savings at $25,000 per year over 20 years
In addition to savings, the value proposition to the Town of Peterborough and the State of New Hampshire:
∎ D isplaced fossil fuel. We are using a renewable energy source, not a fossil-based fuel like coal.
∎ S upport for a local business person, Chris Anderson of Borrego Solar Systems.
∎ S pend our dollars locally not with global energy power sources.
∎ Serve as a template for other New Hampshire communities, nonprofits and private companies trying to figure out how to go solar.
∎ We provide our know-how and our negative know-how (what not to do) and save them resources
∎ And the b ig one: no capital or operational expense to the town. The build out is totally financed through the PUC/ Borrego partnership, and Borrego will operate and maintain the project.
The bottom line is we are respected as leaders in the sustainability/conservation discussion and have already received overtures for future grant opportunities.
Joe Byk is Chairman of the Peterborough Select Board.