To the editor,
I am writing as a citizen, not on behalf of the Board of Finance.
The Board of Selectmen and the Planning and Zoning Commission have put the town at significant financial risk, and I believe it is important for taxpayers to be aware of the details. Concerns raised by the Board of Finance have been disregarded, so I am taking this opportunity to inform the public so that they may inquire further as to the reasons from both organizations.
The facts are simple. Jordan Energy first proposed the installation of a solar array in March of 2015. The “partnership” that has been approved by the Board of Selectman, with a subsequent contract signed by the First Selectman, allows Green Beacon LLC, a limited liability corporation controlled by Jordan, to use around 2 acres of town property next to the wastewater treatment plant to install a solar array that will sell electricity and provide, at varying levels over the 20 plus years of the contract, a negligible savings to the town on its energy bill, which in the first year is estimated at $9,069. All profits outside of that go to Green Beacon. Should the town need to pull out of the contract for any reason it will need to compensate Green Beacon for lost revenue at varying rates. In the first year this puts the town at risk for $769,312, in the fifth $557,919.
Despite the potential financial risk the Board of Selectmen has not brought this proposal to the Board of Finance at any point, citing the fact that there is no financial outlay at this time, ignoring the obvious financial components of the arrangement. Nor has it sought public approval. While not illegal, projects of this size and risk are generally brought to the Board of Finance for review.
The wastewater treatment plant in town has needed an upgrade for some time and there are various plans currently in discussion, one of which is an expansion that would require the use of the same land allocated for the array. If that becomes the most cost-effective option, the town will either need to pay in the hundreds of thousands to get out of the contract with Green Beacon, fully pay to move the array to the public works roof, for which there are no current plans or cost estimates, or go with the less cost-effective solution on the plant. In all cases, we lose money, to gain an irrelevant amount of energy savings. When I asked Mr. Bielik at our meeting on Nov .1 why we were doing this with so little to gain, he responded that he wanted the town to be a leader in renewable energy.
Despite the fact that these discussions have been ongoing for nearly two years, we are told that there is no time for review by the Board of Finance or time to sensibly wait until a decision is made on the treatment plant. At the P&Z meeting on Jan. 19, [Board of Finance] Chairman [Joe] Rodorigo and I requested that they not approve the project and bring the details to a town meeting due to the obvious risks. The commission also heard statements from the supervisor of wastewater treatment stating the increasing likelihood they will need to expand the plant. Despite all of this risk the commission, responsible for the appropriate use of town property, approved the project, which is now moving forward.
All official options have been used. I’ll point out that, unlike the fuel cell plant that has found its way to this paper in many articles, little information on this project has been offered to the public, and the avoidance of the Board of Finance is glaring.
In my experience politicians are very quick to speak openly about projects that are good for the town. If this is the first time you are hearing about this project, you should ask yourself why. I encourage taxpayers that care about how their money is spent to inquire further from their representatives. The Board of Finance lowered your taxes last year. If we lose money on this deal, it will hurt any chances for us to continue to fulfill our plans to continuously improve the financial condition of our town.