ConVal delays solar project

  • ConVal student Zoe Werth speaks in favor of the ConVal solar project at a meeting in January. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

  • ConVal High School in Peterborough, N.H. (Monadnock Ledger-Transcript photograph) Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/27/2020 4:04:45 PM

The ConVal School Board opened the District’s proposed solar array project to competitive bidding, reversing a decision to move ahead with ReVision Energy as the contractor. The project has now been delayed long enough that it’s unlikely the District can capitalize on the financial incentives that initially spurred the Board to accept ReVision as the sole source provider.

Board member Jim Fredrickson said the decision, at the School Board’s May 19 meeting, was to give the District a chance for the best possible rate, while Peterborough Energy Committee chair Emily Manns bemoaned the additional delay after five months with no letter of intent. “This new delay could kill ConVal Solar,” she said.

This March, voters greenlighted the Board to negotiate for a 300 kilowatt solar array to be installed at the high school through a power purchase agreement, which would allow ConVal to buy out the system after 20 years to realize additional energy savings.

In November, the Board voted to allow the district to enter into a sole source provider agreement in order to capitalize on time-sensitive tax credit benefits that would ultimately lower the power purchase agreement rates and buyout cost.

Financial consequences depend on how much longer the project is delayed, ReVision Energy representative Dan Weeks said, and that it was unlikely, at this rate, that the project could be under contract by the end of 2020.

Fredrickson said the sole source agreement made more sense in December before the various deadlines for savings passed. He said he could not comment on why the letter of intent had not been written yet, and Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Rizzo Saunders did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. In light of the delays, Fredrickson said he proposed the vote to move to a competitive bid process in the best interest of the District. “If we have two people at the table, I think we might get a better deal,” he said. 

Weeks said he was unaware of other solar companies that could provide, finance, and install ConVal’s system under a power purchase agreement at a competitive rate. ReVision’s mission encouraged the company to spend the last decade figuring out how to make power purchase agreements feasible in New Hampshire, which lacks the solar incentives of neighboring states. They’ve done 140 such projects to date, he said, but they’re happy to go through a competitive bidding process.

“The decision to go with a sole source provider was an informed decision,” Manns said. She expressed dismay that the project was effectively in the same place as it was last fall, when Weeks offered the Board template documents to complete a Request For Proposal.

Manns said her concerns were echoed by Janine Lesser, the sole School Board member to vote against the competitive bid process. “Janine said we’ve already made the decision, we already have had legal advice, let’s keep moving forward with this no cost project,” Manns said, instead of delaying further to pursue another option that includes additional legal costs. 

Manns also said she was disappointed in the lack of transparency regarding the ConVal Board and administration’s lack of action on the project this year. “We could help if we knew more about their decision process,” Manns said of the School Board, ConVal administration and their legal counsel.

Now that the project is set to have a competitive bidding process, Fredrickson said that the subject would be handled in nonpublic formats going forward.

The tax credit available for the solar project dropped from 30 percent to 26 in 2019, Weeks said. If the project is delayed until 2021, the credit drops to 22 percent, and to just 10 percent in 2022. The project was also eligible for a $10,000 solar rebate through the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission if they entered a contract before April 17, Weeks said. Some of those funds remain available due to disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, but expects them to be fully allocated by later this summer.

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