BREWSTER – The sun may be shinning at last but Brewster’s solar plans are still shaded by doubts.
Plans for twin wind turbines to cover the town’s energy needs and produce surplus cash have been supplanted by a potential solar project at the same site in Commerce Park. The Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative has contracted with Broadway Electric of Boston for a second round of projects around Cape Cod – including Brewster – but negotiations between the town and CVEC have been bogged down for months.
Chuck Hanson, Brewster’s representative on the CVEC board, gave the energy committee an update on March 7. He said town counsel Sarah Turano-Flores, “was paid a lot of money to look at the contracts and she did a lot of work and asked for some changes. She went through it with a fine-tooth comb. The changes were approved a few months ago, except for two things back in December.”
Massachusetts energy providers are supposed to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. To meet this goal they can buy Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC) from whoever is providing solar power (Brewster in this case). Their price is determined by auction but it has tumbled due to oversupply from over $500 in 2012 to $220 per SREC in the March Massachusetts auction.
That is impacting the economics of the solar industry.
“Broadway [Electric] is the contractor for Commerce Park and their financial people had a lot of discussion with CVEC because the finance guy wanted a lot of changes,” Hanson explained. “I think that’s because the deals aren’t as good as they were. and that now has to come back to every town for a re-look.”
The result is that towns working on phase two projects will get a new contract.
“But CVEC felt it was a good deal,” Hanson said, adding that he didn’t know any more details. “We should have that in a couple of weeks.”
The land in Commerce Park was resurveyed in the fall.
“As far as I know we don’t have an inter-connection price from NStar,” Hanson said.
One issue for many towns has been who owns the project over time.
“Barnstable and Orleans have re-negotiated to potentially buy the first right of refusal after seven years,” Hanson said. “Brewster has not asked for it.”
“Is Charlie [Sumner, town administrator] the person who determines whether a town wants to buy an asset?” wondered committee member Chris Powicki. “It doesn’t cost the town anything to have an option in there.”
He suggested the energy committee recommend the town seek an option and the committee approved it.
The solar project would offset the town’s energy load, ideally eliminating their annual bill. Other excess electricity beyond that could be sold by CVEC to other towns and Brewster would receive half the savings while other towns in the cooperative get lower electric cost.
Powicki noted NStar could charge for all this bookkeeping.
CVEC has received approval for a 1.083-megawatt photovoltaic array at the Brewster landfill (transfer station). NStar approved the plans but the system has to be connected by Dec. 15, 2013.
American Capital Energy of Chelmsford is the contractor CVEC enlisted for round one of their solar projects.
“ACE has to get it done in nine months and NStar has to get a line up,” Hanson said. “So I think that’s finally positive.”
That project would cover one-third of Brewster municipal electricity. If Commerce Park ever gets running that would double the muni-load so Brewster would have excess electricity to split with CVEC. Originally 10 percent of the power was supposed to go to the Cape Light Compact for redistribution to other towns but that is no longer part of the deal.
“When the county came to the town and said ‘join CVEC’ that was part of the deal,” Powicki noted.
“If CVEC has a fixed stream of electricity to sell that’s a good thing,” Hanson said.
There is also a question about whether there would be a property tax on the projects – Dennis wants to impose one on CVEC’s solar project in that town. Powicki noted that could be an additional source of revenue.
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