City approves solar development project on Dunbarton Road

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Ward 5 Alderman Tony Sapienza.

MANCHESTER, NH — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Tuesday to approve a solar development proposal by Kearsarge at the former landfill on Dunbarton Road, but not without some back-and-forth between board members.

Ward 5 Alderman Tony Sapienza called for the proposal to come before the full board after approval by the Special Committee on Energy Contracts earlier in the evening. Levasseur questioned why the project, which has resurfaced and sunk several times in the past, had merit now.

Timing is everything, it seems.

True, the solar array is not a big money-maker for the city under current PUC regulations. A conservative estimate from the city was that the solar array would generate between $5,000 and $20,000 annually for the city based on current and future prices.

Levasseur questioned what kind of flora and fauna would be displaced or destroyed from the existing green space for a “big solar conglomeration of panels” and five-thousand bucks.

“I don’t see how that’s a good deal for us,” Levasseur said.

Sapienza said he initially shared Levasseur’s concerns that $5,000 in returns to the city for a megawatt of clean energy didn’t sound like a lot.

But after listening to the presentation during committee, Sapienza said he understood that if the city’s trusted consultant recommends that this is the best way forward for the city — and the future of energy consumption—  he was all ears.

At-Large Alderman Joe Kelly.

“What I learned is that this is our consultant, he’s been working with the city for 10 years, and we just renegotiated his contract last year. They’ve been doing a great job and brought a bunch of expertise. And they had what, nine bids? So out of nine proposals that came from this RFP the highway department along with their consultant matt picked this package because it’s the package with the least financial risk,” Sapienza said.

“So the question for tonight really is, do you want a solar panel up there or not? That’s the only question. It’s 1 megawatt because the state is limiting us to that. Maybe someday we can do more, but for today we can’t. So you want it or you don’t; it’s that easy,” Sapienza said.

Alderman Chris Herbert said he favored the project but would prefer a public utility to be owned by the public.

“That power should go into the city as ours, but that’s my preference. I won’t stand in the way of putting clean energy into the city, but I’d do it another way,” Herbert said.

Levasseur questioned Kearsarge’s investment in a project that may take 40 years for a return on investment, and may actually be obsolete by then.

Sapienza also learned that there is federal tax credit available but with a time limit, which is what prompted him to fast-track the item out of committee to the full board.

According to material shared by city consultant Competitive Energy Services, Kearsarge’s proposal would:

  • Generate 1 MW landfill development based on limits of net metering policy
  • Generate monetary credits at the default service rate
  • Kearsarge will retain 95 percent of credit value and remit 5 percent of that value back to Manchester in net benefit, regardless of future rates
  • Current rates result in a payment to Manchester of at $5,000/year, according to Competitive Energy Services estimates, and up to $10-$20K/year over the life of the project

In July Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bill that would have increased requirements for the amount of solar power that utilities must use in their fuel mix.

Sununu characterized the bill as a”hand-out” to solar developers, while supporters of the bill said Sununu vetoed the bill to appease out-of-state pro-fossil fuel interests.

Following the meeting, Mayor Craig released the following statement about the decision to invest in solar enegy:

“Tonight, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a solar development proposal at the former landfill. This is an opportunity that has been talked about for years, and something the city has been actively working on for the last year and a half,” Craig said.

“The solar installation will add power to the grid at no cost to the city. This installation is the first of hopefully many projects that will produce clean, renewable energy, save taxpayer money, create jobs and address climate change,” Craig said. “I’m glad to see this project moving forward and will continue to work to expand renewable energy options in the future.”

Below are supporting documents from Tuesday’s meetings.

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Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!