Brattleboro looks at landfill solar project


BRATTLEBORO >> With questions over a previous net-metering arrangement, the town's Energy Committee is looking at another option — a closed and capped landfill.

"It says agreements need to be executed by Nov. 30," Michael Bosworth, committee chairman, said at a meeting Monday, referring to a document from the Windham Solid Waste Management District.

The district is holding two sessions at 327 Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro on Tuesday, Sept. 6, about the project. One is at 11 a.m. and the other is at 7 p.m.

WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer told the Reformer local officials from municipalities and school districts have been invited. Business owners also are welcome to come as Act 99, the law making the Brattleboro landfill a pilot project for net metering, allows for business participation.

Sky Solar owns the lease for the landfill property. Encore Renewables will be in charge of permitting and building. According to a press release, savings over 20 years could be about $573,280 for a customer spending $100,000 annually on electricity with Green Mountain Power. Someone with a $50,000 annual bill could see savings in the neighborhood of $286,640 over 20 years. A $57,328 savings over 20 years is estimated for a customer spending $10,000 a year.

The town had a deal with NextSun Energy. But in June, Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein announced that NextSun had filed a motion to dismiss a complaint filed by the town. He said the contract was "essentially" cancelled after disagreements over different versions that were drafted.

"While the two parties may contest things, it could come out of limbo at some point and the town could start receiving more credits and the town would benefit from that. But we don't know that yet," Bosworth said. "We haven't heard anything recently about what the town intends to do or whether the town intends to keep contesting that."

He said the committee wanted to review the option because the Select Board has turned to the committee for its opinion in the past.

Guest speaker Lester Humphreys told committee members that under new net-metering rules being proposed, there will not be any "large, 500 kilowatt projects" anytime soon unless solar panels are attached directly to the sites benefitting from the credits.

Some sites could have availability if certificates of public good were obtained before the cap was reached.

"And there are still a few projects out there that the town could possibly buy into," Humphreys said.

The 5 megawatt landfill project on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro is expected to be approved under the old rules. Humphreys said Brattleboro already is "seriously looking into this" option and the developer is "very interested" in having the town join.

"There's a sizable amount of savings for the town if they buy into that program," he said. "What's in it for the developers is that the town is a large user with a stellar credit rating that's going to be around for 25, we assume. It's more likely to be around in 25 years than say a business or an individual."

The town would receive a credit for 19 cents every kilowatt hour generated by its percentage and it would pay the developer 13.9 cents for every kilowatt hour generated. The rate is locked in for 10 years and then it goes to a rate that will be established by Green Mountain Power.

"The electric bills stay exactly the way they are right now. Whatever it uses and whatever rates are applied to its electric bills, it would stay exactly the same. It's just a cash credit for the percentage," said Humphreys. "Something the town needs to make sure of is that the cash credits it gets is less than its total bill, because the power company will not write a check backwards."

The worst case scenario, Humphreys said, would see the town saving money over a decade and breaking even in the next one. The only risk would be "lost opportunities" to join better projects in the future, he added.

With new ideas regarding the future of renewable energy, committee member George Harvey said, "We're going into a radically different situation than anyone has ever seen in the past. There's no question about it."

The WSWMD meetings are intended to provide an opportunity to ask about the landfill project.

"Everyone's got a lot of questions and there's problems with solar contracts, with Brattleboro and some other places," Spencer said. "So there's some skepticism about what we're getting into here."

A meeting with the Brattleboro town administration and town attorney Bob Fisher will be held between the two sessions. That's "because they're the largest potential off-taker," said Spencer. Also, Fisher represents other towns within the district.

Once an agreement is finalized, Spencer said, the terms will all look the same for every town. Towns can be part of more than one net-metering arrangement and a mechanism in the contract allows for the transfer of their share to another municipality.

"The only town I know is maxed out is Putney. They've committed all of their municipal usage to solar," said Spencer. "The other towns have all of theirs or some portion available."

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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