Local solar company pitches idea to BF trustees

Thursday December 13, 2012

BELLOWS FALLS -- At its Tuesday night meeting, the Board of Trustees heard from a representative of a solar photovoltaic company who explained how the village could benefit from solar power.

Peter Thurrell of Soveren Solar was invited by Trustee Deborah Wright to explain how the village can pay less for its electricity and help the environment at the same time.

He said net-metering legislation passed by the state and a rapid fall in the price of solar panels have made it possible for Soveren Solar to built a photovoltaic system on village land or land that the village could lease. A photovoltaic system is one that uses solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity.

Net metering allows multiple households to use solar electricity generated by solar panels located elsewhere. It has been compared to community supported agriculture.

Thurrell said there would be no cost to the village, which would receive a credit on its electric bill. The village, he said, would get to keep a small portion of that credit and pay the rest to Soveren Solar, which would own the installed system.

"So basically, your electric bill will be reduced by about 5 percent. As you go forward over the next seven years, you pay less for electricity and you have the benefit that that electricity is all being generated by a renewable resource," he told the trustees. "Then, after seven years, you have option where you could buy the system at its fair-market value, which will be less than half of the original cost of the system, or you could just keep on using it, getting your 5-percent-a-month savings on your electricity and after 20 years the system simply transfers ownership to the village."

He said it costs $4 wholesale to buy a solar panel three years ago and now costs less than $1.

"What we’re offering is to come in and build the system, run it and maintain it at no cost to the town, you get to save money as you go forward," Thurrell said.

When Trustee Stefan Golec expressed some confusion over how the village’s relationship with Green Mountain Power -- its electricity provider -- would change, Thurrell said it wouldn’t at all.

"Basically, we’re offering to build a solar installation. Third-party owners will provide all the money to built the solar installation," he explained. "Third-party owners receive the tax benefits of that installation that aren’t of any use to the village because you’re not a taxable entity."

Municipal Manager Tim Cullenen said he likes the idea but felt blind-sided at the meeting because neither he nor Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh had heard of the proposal beforehand. He said the whole process likely isn’t as easy as "getting this and getting that."

Walsh said the only people who will make money are the third-party investors.

Thurrell said there will be no payback for the village because the village will not pay anything.

All trustees seemed to be open to the concept but wanted more research conducted. Cullenen said he, Walsh and other town officials will be looking for more information about the subject matter. He said four or five other companies have given similar pitches.

"The devil’s in the details," he told the Reformer after the meeting.

-- During the public comment portion of the meeting, Jeremy Haskins of J & H Hardware had some concerns about how Saturday’s scheduled holiday concert at the Bellows Falls Opera House will affect businesses in The Square.

Sponsored by the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance, the one-hour concert is scheduled to begin a 1 p.m. and feature the choir, concert band and jazz ensemble of Bellows Falls Union High School.

Haskins said the weeks leading up to Christmas are the busiest of the year for downtown merchants.

Village President Roger Riccio asked Cullenen if anything could be done and the municipal manager said the trustees can choose to enforce the village’s two-hour parking limit but there would be overtime costs associated with that.

He said enforcement would be difficult. He said the BFPD has one or two officers on duty at any one time and said enforcement should probably come from BFDDA volunteers.

A special meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. today in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre to discuss the issue of parking.

In other business:

-- Cullenen filled in for Rockingham Finance Officer Chip Stearns and gave the trustees a year-to-date budget status report.

"Broadly speaking, we’re where we would anticipate to be on the budget, in terms of our expenditures," he said.

-- During his manager’s report, Cullenen said the drug dropbox, made possible by a donation from the Greater Falls Prevention Coalition, is now in place in the lobby of the Bellows Falls Police Department. Police Chief Ron Lake has previously said the dropbox is for anyone who wishes to anonymously discard of unused/expired prescription drugs with no questions asked. Flushing drugs down the toilet can have a negative effect on the environment and should be avoided, he said.

Cullenen also said the BFPD was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Vermont Department of Public Safety Homeland Security for a mobile data terminal unit, which allows laptops to be utilized in a police cruiser.

-- Heather Gleim of the Bellows Falls Community Improvement Committee gave the trustees an update on Tuesday.

She said three months ago she made contact with Josh Hanford of the Vermont Department of Community Development about neighborhood stabilization grant money. She said the committee plans to meet with Nathan Cleveland -- one of the department’s employees -- on Dec. 20.

-- Wright passed out a rental impact fee outline. Resident and landlord Les White, who was in attendance, called the document "a bombshell" and opposes it because it would be a burden to landlords in the village when the economy is already making life difficult.

Wright and Riccio said the outline is very preliminary and that the process simply need to start somewhere. They both said absolutely nothing is cast in stone and vote will not be taken any time soon.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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