ACUSHNET — The Alternative Energy Committee is exploring the possible financial benefits of a solar farm on 60 acres of town-owned land. The land is located behind P.J. Keating’s quarry on South Main Street.
On Monday, Chairman David E. Wojnar, who also chairs the Board of Selectmen, said the acreage “could serve as the perfect site as a municipal private/public partnership.” One advantage, he said, is its proximity to an electrical grid.
Prompting Monday’s discussion was a letter from Mainline Solar/Tangent Energy Solutions of Pennsylvania. Mr. Wojnar said the solar firm “wants to have some exclusivity to look at land behind the quarry.”
The committee debated whether giving exclusive rights to a firm to explore a solar farm on town-owned land is in the town’s best interests or the firm’s.
Mr. Wojnar said of Tangent, “They want a window of exclusivity,” before the town would seek requests for proposals” to give the firm a leg up considering the costs of doing a preliminary study. He said, “I can see their point, but it seems to me the more people we have looking at it, the better product we get.”
Committee member John Roy agreed, “They eliminate the competition” by getting exclusive rights, he said.
Mr. Wojnar said the town has been contacted by several solar and wind power developers about doing municipal projects. He said it is something that other towns and cities are being contacted about, too.
In Acushnet’s case, public hearings should be held on such projects “as we navigate our way through this. Other communities, whether wind or solar, they’ve stubbed their toe along the way. .We were looking at wind six or seven years ago, but just the clumsiness of it, the possible opposition, we decided to scrap that.”
The town pursued solar instead, Mr. Wojnar said, citing the solar roof on the Fire Station. The solar roof on the Russell Street Fire Station was built with federal stimulus money.
Mr. Wojnar said the town has reaped benefits with the June bill from NStar showing no cost for electricity to the Fire Station and a $244 credit for Town Hall.
As for the 60-acre parcel behind the quarry, Mr. Wojnar said one advantage is that it is set back from residences and cannot be seen from the road.
“Based on what we’ve learned the past year, we want to keep it removed from residences as far as far away as possible,” he said. “Let’s get smart about it. Everyone knows it can be dicey.”
Mr. Wojnar didn’t mention neighboring towns by name, but wind turbines and solar farms have been met with resistance in Fairhaven and Dartmouth. Fairhaven Wind LLC, which constructed two industrial turbines on town-owned land in Fairhaven, has a lease agreement from which the town gets $100,000 a year.
Dartmouth has been grappling with objections to private solar farms.
Attending Monday’s meeting was consultant George Woodbury who has experience working with other towns on solar projects. Mr. Woodbury worked on parts of the state bylaws governing alternative energy.
As for the proposal from Tangent, he said, “I would not give them exclusive rights. There would be tags attached to that. I think you want to know what the markets look like.” Mr. Woodbury said a town or city has to do a request for proposals for projects on municipal land.
Mr. Woodbury has worked with Acushnet town officials previously and did the initial consultation on this project at no charge. He said he was “there to help the town avoid risk.”
The committee decided to present the idea of a solar farm on municipal land to the Board of Selectmen on June 16.