November 1, 2014

Solar energy proposal scaled back

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Potential 20-year savings down to nearly $200K

By Steven Frank

Observer staff

 

A proverb, coined by 17th century French author François de la Rochefoucauld, reads: “The only thing constant in life is change.”

The Williston Selectboard got a large dose of that at its meeting Tuesday when Williston Energy Initiative representative Kevin Batson delivered the news that a proposal once made by AllEarth Renewables Inc. to install 27 solar trackers that could save the town nearly $1 million over the next 20-25 years has changed dramatically.

Batson, who outlined the plan at a Selectboard meeting just a week earlier (Jan. 9), conveyed details of a new proposal featuring 10 trackers and a possible savings of close to $200,000 over 20 years. That amount assumes a 3-percent annual increase in electric rates and the town purchasing the trackers at the end of a five-year leasing period for $109,980.

Batson and the other three representatives from the town’s energy initiative in attendance were unsure why the proposal changed.

“(AllEarth) pulled the rug out from under us,” said Dennis Bates, one of the energy initiative reps.

Andrew Savage, director of communications and public affairs for Williston-based AllEarth, told the Observer on Wednesday that his company presented the original proposal (a 150-kilowatt project) last spring. Since then, a state rebate decrease to AllEarth only makes the current one (60 kilowatts) feasible.

“(The change) is a reflection of the state rebate that is necessary to make the project work financially,” said Savage, who added that All-Earth is “very eager” to work with the town and that 60-kilowatt projects have been “successful” in Hinesburg and Starksboro.

If the Selectboard votes to include the project in the FY13 municipal budget, the town and AllEarth would enter into a five-year power purchase agreement. Instead of the town getting its electricity directly from Green Mountain Power, it would pay AllEarth a $7,332 upfront fee and a fixed rate of 20 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The town would have a choice at the end of the five years: purchase the 10 trackers for $109,980 or enter into another power purchase agreement. Board members leaned toward purchasing the trackers, which would come at a depreciated value and save on equipment costs over the 20-year estimate Batson outlined.

Several Board members, however, indicated that any decision should not be made in haste.

“I think we should negotiate,” said Board member Jeff Fehrs, “and look at other green energy companies.”

Town Manager Rick McGuire agreed.

“The point is we need to do our homework,” he told the Observer on Wednesday. “Just because we’re talking to one company doesn’t mean that’s what we’re going to do… who knows how things will look in five years? Things are always changing.”

McGuire mentioned the possibility of using fixed solar panels, which are freestanding — thus generating less power than trackers that can follow the sun’s position — and cost less.

The Board unanimously agreed via a straw vote (non-binding) to study the proposal further. An official vote on whether to include it in the municipal budget could occur at the Board’s next meeting on Jan. 23.

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