Wendell moving forward on solar project

For The Athol Daily News
Thursday, March 01, 2018

WENDELL — A series of articles allowing the town to move forward on a community energy project passed through votes at a special town meeting Tuesday night.

The project concerns a 1.33-acre piece of town-owned land at 97 Wendell Depot Road, which has been targeted as the site for a solar energy-producing facility that could save certain households on energy expenses.

The project follows a “Community Solar Cooperative” model, according to Gregory Garrison, president of Northeast Solar, the company building the facility.

The Wendell Community Solar Cooperative “allows individual households that cannot install solar to receive the same benefits as homeowners that can install solar on their households,” according to Garrison.

Members who join the cooperative receive the benefits of long-term decreased energy costs, while more dollars flow into the local economy from those savings. Solar is also a promising form of clean energy, Garrison said.

The cooperative will also be eligible for current and future state and federal solar-energy incentives, including tax credits.

The property owner — in this case, the town — provides the cooperative with a 20-year lease with options for 10-year extensions. The town would “receive a predetermined lease payment as a benefit,” according to Garrison.

“It’s a long process, how it actually works,” Garrison said to the approximately 60 people at the meeting. “But you are an owner.”

Northeast Solar will also receive a “predetermined” amount of money to install the solar array, depending on the scope of the project.

According Garrison, the company that would build the facility, there are two options for the type of facility that would be built.

The first option, according to Garrison, would include 1,116 solar panels and allow 55 members to in the cooperative. This project would yield the town a net economic benefit of more than $65,000 a year and more than $1.3 million over 20 years, Garrison said.

The second option would include 648 panels and allow for 32 members to benefit. This would yield a net economic benefit of over $42,000 a year and $846,800 over 20 years, according to Garrison.

The attendees of the special town meeting voted unanimously to transfer control of the property from the treasurer to the Selectboard, specifically for the purposes of hosting the community-shared solar energy facility.

The Selectboard also now has the power to “execute all documents and take all actions necessary to accomplish such a project, or take any other action relative thereto,” according to the article.

The Selectboard also gained control of the vacant building that exists on the property for the purposes of sale, transfer or demolition.

The Selectboard hopes someone in the community will buy the house and move it to a different property, so as not to have to demolish the building.

According to Selectboard Chair Christine Heard, leaving the building on the property would disrupt the project.

The next step is for the Selectboard and Board of Assessors to negotiate and enter into a pilot agreement regarding payments related to the project.

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