BLACKSTONE — A proposal to install ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels at the former landfill on Chestnut Street will go before voters next month.
The plan is to enter into a lease agreement with a solar energy developer who will finance, operate, and maintain the facility while providing reductions in energy costs to the town.
At its meeting last week, the Board of Selectmen appointed freshman Selectman Michael J. Catalano to a six-member ad-hoc committee that will review bids from solar energy developers, who have been invited to submit proposals by April 30. In addition to Catalano, the panel will include Town Administrator Daniel Keyes, two members of the Finance Committee and one member of the Planning Board and the Board of Health.
“The requests for proposals we have out there now is basically for a turn-key operation for a developer to come in to town, do the work at the landfill, maintain it, and allow the town to receive a percentage of its electricity for our municipal buildings,” says William T. Walsh, recycling director and member of the town’s solar ad-hoc committee.
If approved by voters, the plan is to lease land at the former landfill on Chestnut Street to a solar energy company that would develop and operate ground-mounted photovoltaic solar panels capable of generating between 1.5 and 2 megawatts. In exchange for the lease, the company will pay the town an annual fee, as well as supply its municipal buildings with electricity.
“The Chestnut Street landfill is just sitting there. It’s been closed and capped for 10 years. We can make money and it won’t cost the town a dime,” Walsh says.
After reviewing the bids, the ad-hoc panel will recommend a company to the Board of Selectmen, which will take its own vote for recommendation to town meeting voters in May.
Specifically, Article 25 will ask voters to approve the solar lease proposal for Chestnut Street, while companion Article 26 will ask voters to consider changing the use specifications of a portion of town-owned Veterans Park – the old Red Morse property on Elm Street – in the event the town wants to have a second site for a leased solar photovoltaic renewable energy facility some time in the future.
The domestic solar energy industry continues to grow at a staggering pace. In 2011, photovoltaic installations grew 109 percent over the previous year, bringing the current total of installed domestic capacity to almost 4,000 megawatts – enough solar energy to meet average demand from almost one million U.S. homes
More and more cities and towns, including Blackstone, are interested in pursuing solar energy systems to offset energy expenses while also returning brownfield properties such as capped landfills to productive use.
In East Providence, for example, the first phase of the Forbes Street solar farm project is slated for construction this spring. Final steps are in process for regulatory closure of the former landfill through approval of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. Once these closure issues are finalized, construction of the first project, consisting of a 3 megawatt solar array facility, will commence.
At full estimated capacity, the Forbes Street solar energy system would be one of the largest solar facilities in New England and the first active use of the 229-acre Forbes Street property since the landfill closed in 1979 after a decade as the city’s dump.
Two years ago, the Town of Uxbridge signed an agreement with Constellation Energy to construct an $8 million 2,400-kilowatt ground-mounted solar photovoltaic plant on 15.5 acres of privately owned land on Commerce Drive. As part of that arrangement, the town will receives annual property tax payments of $41,000 over the 20-year lease term, as well as a 10 percent net excess generation credit applied to meters owned by the town to offset the town’s energy bill.
In Bellingham, the School Department has negotiated a deal with Energy in the Bank to build an 8,000-panel solar farm on the Maple Street landfill, which would offset 90 percent of its energy use and save the district more than $2 million in energy costs over the next 20 years.
Walsh has been working on getting a solar farm project in Blackstone for more than a year, saying photovoltaic solar panels are a growing trend. Solar arrays convert direct current electricity to alternating current through an inverter. An individual photovoltaic cell - averaging about 4 inches per side - typically converts 15 percent of the available solar radiation into about 1 or 2 watts of electrical power.
“It’s really a win-win situation because not only do solar farms offer clean energy with little harm to the environment, but they can save the town money in energy costs and bring old landfills back to productive use,” he said.