WESTERLY – Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy hopes the town can go green without necessarily having a solar panel array, wind turbines, or other systems within town confines.
To accomplish his goal, Kennedy is seeking bids from renewable energy companies interested in providing electricity to the town under a virtual net-metering system. Under net metering, people or companies generate their own electricity, export any excess electricity to the grid, and get paid for providing this excess energy to a utility company, such as National Grid, which then provides power to municipal buildings in Westerly.
Virtual met metering allows customers to receive net-metering credits for projects even if they are not on their property.
A request for proposals first published earlier this month is seeking bids from companies capable of providing energy through solar power, wind power, hydropower, biomass, fuel cells, waste-to-energy, or geothermal. Potential bidders are being asked to provide at least half of the 4,073,285 kilowatt hours the town uses at Town Hall and other municipal buildings and facilities. Bids are due no later than March 23.
Kennedy, who has set a goal of moving the town into position to receive at least half of its electricity from renewable sources in three years, sees the virtual net metering proposal as both good for the environment and a way to reduce the town’s expenses. The town currently spends about $974,500 each year on electricity, including street lights.
The request for proposals allows bids from companies planning to site a power generating facility in the town but Kennedy said he envisions a system based in a different town. The town would enter into a power-purchase agreement with the company, which would feed the power it generates into the electrical grid operated by National Grid.
“The advantage of virtual net metering is you don’t have to have the solar panels or arrays or field in the town, thus freeing up that open space for other opportunities,” Kennedy said during a recent interview.
Virtual net metering is also a desirable option in towns such as Westerly that have faced opposition to solar arrays based on aesthetic and other considerations. And, towns that benefit from virtual net metering do not have to participate in the rigors of planning and zoning reviews, Kennedy said. A solar array proposed for town-owned land adjacent to the Water Department office on White Rock drew opposition and was ultimately dropped in 2013. Plans for a wind-turbine facility also drew criticism that year.
Under virtual net metering the town would enter into power-purchase agreement. Terms of the agreement would be negotiated between the company that manages the power generating system and town officials. Kennedy said the agreements can be configured in a few different ways, all of which include a promise to reduce a town’s electrical costs. Under some arrangements, the company commits to providing power at a guaranteed lower rate than what the municipality has paid historically. Other arrangements involve a percentage difference in rates.
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