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Solar or wind, city is aiming for best deal

GARDNER – Hoping for the city to get the most megawatts for the buck, Mayor Mark P. Hawke said the city and the Gardner Redevelopment Authority are weighing whether to substitute a solar array for a wind turbine planned at Summit Industrial Park.

The city is looking to cut a deal to have ground-mounted solar arrays installed on city land in three places. The City Council voted Monday night to lease land to a company for the installation of solar arrays at the city’s municipal airport, landfill and water treatment plant. Mr. Hawke said yesterday that 20 acres at Summit Industrial Park, which is under control of the Gardner Redevelopment Authority, would also be considered for a solar array with the same company.

At the industrial park, the mayor said, there would be two options. One would be to install solar panels outside the buffer zone required for a wind turbine. The other would be to use all 20 acres available at the industrial park and not install a turbine.

“Right now, it seems like solar might be the most cost-effective,” he said.

The Gardner Redevelopment Authority markets and operates two industrial parks in the city, including Summit Industrial Park. City Planner Robert L. Hubbard, who is also the executive director of the redevelopment authority, said Tighe & Bond, consulting engineers, is studying the feasibility as part of planning to install a wind turbine at the industrial park. It has completed the technical study of the project and is working on the business plan, which will look at the financing, construction costs, and what will be required for an interconnection agreement with National Grid.

Mr. Hubbard said the decision on whether to construct the wind turbine is not final.

“We’re looking at what is the best use of the land,” he said. “Possibly we could combine wind and solar, but that is still to be determined.”

Mr. Hubbard said the vote by the council will allow the city to advertise a request for bids, seeking businesses interested in doing the solar project. He said the city would be required to choose from at least three proposals.

“When you find the one you like, you can make a deal with them,” he said.

Mr. Hawke said the city would lease out land on the side of the city airport in Templeton, the old sewer beds next to the city waste treatment plant, also in Templeton, and the city landfill off West Street in Gardner.

He said the benefits could be significant. Based on initial discussions, and not counting the Redevelopment Authority money, he said, the city could earn up to $5 million in taxes over the 20-year life of the contract.

He said how the tax money would be realized is still under study. One possibility would be to tax the profits realized by the solar array.

The mayor said the total project cost would be about $50 million, which would be paid by the company the city makes its deal with. The deal would likely be over 20 years. Estimates are the city would receive about $1 million in lease payment over the life of the contract, and $2 million in net metering credits. Net metering credits would allow the city to reduce its electric bill through credits based on what is generated.

In addition to $5 million in taxes, the mayor said, the city could receive $400,000 per year from the project.

He said that amount is not guaranteed. Some of the figures will change depending on the market for net metering credits and how the tax situation is negotiated.

“The land lease is the one static thing in this,” he said. “It will be $100,000 to $200,000 per year.”