Pittsford: Solar farm project proposed
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | April 18,2014
PITTSFORD — A year after rejecting one solar project, the Select Board on Wednesday heard from a Waterbury company about its desire to build a 500-kilowatt community solar project — a system that could save the town several thousand dollars a year on its electric bill.
Green Lantern Capital is proposing to build a net metered solar array on private property off Kendall Hill Road with the idea that town government would serve as the anchor customer.
Unlike the plan proposed last year, which encountered strong opposition from some residents and was opposed by the board, the initial outline of the plan presented Wednesday appeared more agreeable to board members.
Luke Shullenberger of Green Lantern Capital told the board his company has entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with the owners of a five-acre subdivision at the intersection of Route 7 and Kendall Hill Road.
“What we’re proposing to do is a 500-kilowatt-size net metered solar project,” said Shullenberger, Green Lantern’s managing partner. “It’s by way of comparison, if you wanted to look at the project that’s on the campus of Green Mountain College or the project that’s behind McDonald’s on Woodstock Avenue, it’s about three times that size.”
Last year, a partner of Green Lantern Capital, proposed building 24 solar arrays on town-owned land around the pump station in the Florence section of town. The project was scaled back to 15 arrays but that did not appease neighbors or the board.
Shullenberger said his project “is not sitting smack dab in the middle of a scenic byway or next to an iconic Vermont (landmark).”
But Selectman Joe Gagnon said that’s all a matter of opinion.
“That depends on who’s looking at it,” said Gagnon, whose comment elicited chuckles from the few people in attendance.
The five-acre parcel is owned by Carmella Carter with the solar farm to be located several hundred feet back from Route 7.
Before moving ahead, however, Shullenberger asked for feedback from the board on whether the plan would be acceptable.
He said the idea is to have town government sign on as the anchor customer to receive power off the system which Green Lantern and its investors would finance at a cost of $1.7 million to $1.8 million.
Town government pays Green Mountain Power $50,000 a year for electricity. Under the net metering system, Shullenberger estimated that he could guarantee the town would be able to save 10 percent, or between $4,700 and $4,800 a year, off its electric bill.
The savings from the solar project proposed last year was half that amount.
Under a net metering system, the solar, wind or hydro power generated is sold to the local power company with the excess power credited to the customer.
Select Board members and Town Manager John Haverstock quizzed Shullenberger about his proposal.
Asked about the terms of the contract, Shullenberger said a typical contract is for 20 years with an option to renew. He said the life span of the fixed-solar array is between 30 and 35 years. He also said in addition to the cost savings to the town, Green Lantern would pay property taxes on the solar facility.
With the town level funding its budget again this year, Select Board Chairman Hank Pelkey said the town will soon need to address the situation.
“The other thing we need to think about is that over the last six years the town has pretty much level funded its budget and we haven’t asked the taxpayers for any increase,” Pelkey said. “Next year, it’s going to be different because there (has) been a lot of things that have been voted in, and we’re going to need to save some money or find other sources of money some place and this looks like a viable option.”
Shullenberger said he also intends to approach the School Board as well to gauge their interest.
“There’s enough output from the array to give the town everything you need and the schools,” he said.
Town government would absorb about 25 percent of the energy generated with the rest allocated to the school and other customers, either within or outside Pittsford, he said.
Before proceeding, he said Green Lantern needs to line up enough customers — whether in Pittsford or elsewhere — to make the project feasible. For investors, Shullenberger said federal tax credits are a major incentive. Without the tax credits, he said investors would only see returns in the low single digits. He said for community solar projects those credits are not available to municipalities or school districts, making the projects cost prohibitive.
One resident, however, urged caution before the town moves forward.
Jim Rademacher said Green Lantern’s proposal is just that and should not be taken as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. He said the town might get a better deal by asking the project’s investors to give up a little on their returns.
“It’s a proposal and you can make a counter proposal,” Rademacher suggested.
Before its next meeting May 7, the board expects to have the outline of a proposed agreement from Green Lantern Capital to look over.
Shullenberger said if everything falls into place, including Public Service Board approval, construction would begin this summer and the system would be online and generating power by fall.