Former sewage lagoon will house solar array

Borrego Solar will lease the land from the town, pending approval of special town meeting July 22

PETERBOROUGH — Plans for construction of a solar array on a former sewage lagoon next to the town’s wastewater treatment plant are moving ahead, Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett told the Select Board on Tuesday.

The sewage lagoon that is closest to the facility, which is where the solar array will be built, will be closed and filled in this summer, Bartlett said. And town officials are working out details of a agreement under which Borrego Solar, the company that would build and own the solar array, would lease the land from the town. A lease agreement will require approval at a Special Town Meeting, which the Select Board agreed to hold on July 22.

In January, Borrego Solar, which is based in Lowell, Mass., received a $1.2 million grant from the state of New Hampshire to help fund the solar array, which would cover about 3.5 acres and would be the largest such installation in the state. The town of Peterborough has agreed to purchase electricity from Borrego over a 20-year period at a rate of 8 cents per kilowatt/hour, which is about 6 cents per kilowatt/hour less than the town currently pays. The project is expected to generate enough electricity to run the wastewater plant, with excess going into the PSNH electrical grid, which the town could draw on for other buildings at the same rate.

Borrego is currently seeking financing, since the state grant won’t cover the entire $2.8 million cost to build the plant. At Tuesday’s meeting, Bartlett told the Select Board that Borrego had initially considered buying the land from the town, but now feels a lease agreement would make it easier to obtain financing.

“In almost every project they do, they find that owning the land helps,” Bartlett said. “In this case, their attorneys felt that owning a former wastewater lagoon wouldn’t be helpful in obtaining financing.”

Bartlett said Town Meeting approval is required if the Select Board intends to enter a lease agreement of more than five years. He said details of the lease agreement and the power purchase agreement with Borrego are being finalized.

“Borrego is excited to get this [lease agreement] in place, so they can move ahead with their financing,” Bartlett said.

Voters will not be asked to approve any appropriations at the Special Town Meeting, which will held upstairs at the Town House.

Bartlett said the solar array could be in operation by the spring of 2015.

While Borrego is obtaining financing and planning the construction, the town will be closing sewage lagoon one, where the array will be built. Bartlett said the town has received approval from the N.H. Dept. of Environmental Services and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Rural Development to put the closure of the first lagoon out to bid.

The lagoon closing will be paid for using grant money that was obtained from the Dept. of Agriculture Rural Development when the wastewater treatment project was approved.

Bartlett said there is still a layer of sludge in lagoon one.

“[The sludge] three inches thick and will have to be removed and verified by DES,” Bartlett told the board about the sludge on lagoon one.

On Wednesday, Bartlett said the lagoon closure will go out to bid this week.

“It’s about a four month project, hopefully it will be substantially complete before winter,” Bartlett said on Wednesday.

He said the closure of the lagoons has become more complex than expected, because the two lower lagoons have a considerable amount of sludge on the bottom.

“In lagoons two and three, organic matter was not removed when they were built about 30 years ago. The sludge layer there is nine to 12 inches deep. That volume was not anticipated in our original cost estimates,” Bartlett said.

He said the town will eventually apply for new funding from the Dept. of Environmental Services or U.S.D.A. Rural Development to begin evaluation of a sludge removal and closing plan for the other lagoons. It could be a five to seven year process, he said, but it should not impact the schedule for the solar array on the site of the lagoon that will be closed this summer.

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