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Out-of-town solar profits anger Holliston residents

HOLLISTON – Residents last week demanded to know why the town of Bedford would make a profit from a Bullard Street solar farm.

“Even though the power stays here, I question whether the power’s really staying here,” said Bullard Street resident Thomas Gilbert last week.

He and other outraged residents said the developer shouldn’t pepper seven acres of historic property with panels if a town 25 miles away will make $30,000 from the deal.

The way that works is a concept called net metering.

Under the state’s 2008 Green Communities Act, green energy producers can sell unused energy back to the grid in the form of net metering credits. Utility companies such as NStar purchase the credits.

Green energy developers often sell the credits to other municipalities, which then sell them to NStar and get a break on their electricity bill.

In the case of Bullard Street, if the project proceeds, Bedford would sign a deal with Bullard developer Renewable Energy Massachusetts to purchase about $300,000 worth of credits for about $270,000, saving them about $30,000 annually on its electric bill.

“We’re trying to stay on top of our energy production and consumption in a progressive way,” Bedford Town Manager Richard Reed said.

Brian Kopperl, CEO of Renewable Energy Massachusetts, said Holliston got first dibs on the deal last March, but when the town stalled, the company looked elsewhere.

“It would have been problematic to commit to a deal with a developer who was about to embark on a permitting process,” Town Administrator Paul LeBeau said yesterday in an email.

Bedford’s town manager said the deal works well because the amount of energy the Bullard farm would produce corresponds with the amount their town uses.

“When you have the opportunity to save money, it’s something that seems worthy of exploration,” Reed said.

Residents last week also demanded proof that all electricity produced at the farm will be used within Holliston, since a local bylaw about public utilities says services must be rendered within the town.

Kopperl said the highest demand near the solar farm is within Holliston, therefore the power will flow there first.