Solar project piques interest

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BEACON FALLS — The Board of Selectmen voted Monday night to pursue the installation and use of solar energy panels on town-owned property along Lopus Road.

Adam Burkitt, the director of commercial sales for the Troy, N.Y.-based solar company Jordan Energy, told the board the company is interested in installing solar panels on the property where the town’s public works building and wastewater treatment plant are currently located as part of the state’s Zero Emission Renewable Energy Credit (ZREC) Program.

There would be no upfront cost to the town, Burkitt said.

Under the program, the state pays companies, such as Jordan Energy, a set rate for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of power generated.

“That is how we are able to offer these programs to municipalities. It’s the financing mechanism,” Burkitt said.

Companies are selected to participate in the program via an auction and only six companies are chosen each year, Burkitt said. He said the company currently participates in the program through a site in Derby and earns $68 for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of energy produced.

With the town’s permission, Burkitt said, Jordan Energy would enter the auction on behalf of Beacon Falls.

“Now the auction has no guarantee. It is literally an auction. So we spend all the time and all the effort in entering all the data, filling out all the forms, identifying the site. Then what we’d do is go ahead and submit that to the state,” Burkitt said.

Burkitt said the company would have to enter the auction by the middle of May. The town can back out of the program at any time up until the six companies are chosen, he said.

If Jordan Energy wins a spot through the auction and the project moves forward, the company would become the town’s third-party electricity supplier for 20 years.

Burkitt said Beacon Falls used 267,000 kilowatt hours and paid $51,570 for electricity in the 2013-14 fiscal year. The average cost was 19.27 cents per kilowatt. He said the national average increase for electricity is around 5 percent per year, but it is not a fixed number.

Jordan Energy offers a rate of 14.7 cents per kilowatt with a fixed 2 percent increase each year. Over 20 years this would equal a cost savings of approximately $705,000, Burkitt estimated.

The company will maintain the panels for 20 years, Burkitt said.

In addition to saving money, the town would be able to budget accurately for its electric bill, Burkitt said.

“How many municipalities can tell you where their electric bill is going to be in 10 years? None of us can,” Burkitt said. “With this we know they’d be fixed.”

Burkitt said there is a cap on how much energy the town would be able to produce through the solar panels. The site can only be built to produce 10 percent more electricity that the town consumes. For Beacon Falls, he said, that would be about 293,000 kilowatt hours.

Burkitt said it takes between 1.5 and 2 acres of solar panels to produce 250,000 kilowatts of energy.

Burkitt said the site on Lopus Road is ideal because it’s town-owned and doesn’t have many trees on it.

“We don’t want to take down more trees. The point of going green is not to eliminate trees, it’s to help the environment. This area is already cleaned out,” Burkitt said.

In addition the project requires three phase power lines to run along the road, he said.

“This is a very good location, it’s very clean,” Burkitt said.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik and Selectman Peter Betkoski voted in favor of moving forward with the proposal.

Betkoski said the town is planning upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant and felt the solar energy production would help offset the amount of energy used there.

“With that plant it’s only going to be an asset,” Betkoski said.

Bielik called the potential solar energy production “extremely beneficial.”

“I think it is only a positive thing for the town,” Bielik said.

Selectman Dominic Sorrentino abstained due to concerns that the project could hinder future potential economic development on the site.

“My main concern is that site is valuable to economic development compared to what we’re realizing from this,” Sorrentino said. “What’s going to give the town the best bang for its buck?”

The board plans to discuss the project with the Economic Development Commission.
Bielik said the town should move forward with the program while the incentives are still being offered by the state.

“Missing an opportunity, I don’t think we can afford to do that,” Bielik said.