Finance board voices concerns on solar project

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BEACON FALLS — As the Planning and Zoning Commission prepares to review plans for a solar panel project on Lopus Road, finance officials are warning the commission against moving forward with the project.

The Board of Finance recently sent a letter to the commission urging the commission to take no action on the proposed solar energy project with the Troy, N.Y.-based Jordan Energy.

Jordan Energy, a solar energy company, plans to install solar panels on town property where the public works building and wastewater treatment plant are on Lopus Road.

The Board of Selectmen approved a 20-year power purchase agreement with the company in February. Under the agreement, the town would purchase energy from Jordan Energy at a lower cost than Eversource Energy, its current provider. The power produced by the solar panels can only go to town-owned buildings.

According to officials with Jordan Energy, the town is projected to save $928,735 over the 20-year life of the contract.

In the letter, the finance board raised financial concerns about the contract. The letter states that should the town default on the contract, it would cost Beacon Falls a significant amount of money. This loss could be as high as $557,919 if the town defaulted in the fifth year of the contract, the letter states.

The letter states that the need to expand the wastewater treatment plant or to use that land as a staging area for work at the plant could cause the town to default.

The letter also states that the finance board wasn’t given the opportunity to weigh in before the selectmen approved the contract.

“While the Board of Finance disagrees with the position of the Board of Selectmen that it was unnecessary to present this for our review, the fact of the matter is that they have not, and though we have many concerns over the risk and benefits of the partnership, we have no current capacity to influence the final decision,” the letter reads.

Finance board Chairman Joseph Rodorigo referred to the letter when asked for comments.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the Board of Selectman was told by the town attorney that it did not need approval by the Board of Finance to move forward with the contract.

Bielik said the board is sticking by its decision.

“At this time we don’t see any reasons to need to review our position. Unless things materially change we think it stands on its own merit,” Bielik said.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Kevin McDuffie said he received the letter but does not consider financial concerns to be in the purview of the commission.

“The Board of Finance takes care of the Board of Finance and Planning and Zoning takes care of the zoning in the town. We make sure when someone applies they meet all the rules. Planning and Zoning does not handle the financial aspects,” McDuffie said.

The commission scheduled two special meetings over the last few weeks to review the plans, but both were postponed. McDuffie said the commission didn’t have all of the relevant information to make a decision, such as where the asphalt millings that are currently stored at the site would be stored in the future. Jordan Energy also hasn’t submitted a site plan, yet, he added.

“I didn’t want to have half a meeting,” McDuffie said. “I want to make sure all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.”