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Monadnock Leads the Way on Renewable Energy

Jason Reimers June 20, 2014

There is a state law that requires electric utilities (such as Public Service Company of NH and Unitil) and competitive electricity suppliers to get a certain percentage of the electricity they distribute from renewable sources such as solar, hydroelectric, wind, and biomass. If an electricity provider does not generate or purchase the requisite percentage of its electricity from renewable sources, the utility must make payments into a renewable energy fund that is administered by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The renewable energy fund, as its name suggests, is used to fund renewable energy projects. The PUC receives applications from a variety of entities who want to build or refurbish a renewable energy system. Recent applicants include small and large businesses, school districts, universities and municipalities.

Applications are accepted and grants are awarded on an annual basis. In the last round of applications, the PUC distributed $3.8 million from the renewable energy fund, selecting ten projects from thirty-five applications it received.

The greater Monadnock Region was very successful, scoring six of the ten projects selected for funding. These projects will result in high-efficiency wood pellet boilers at Walpole Elementary School and Charlestown Elementary School; the refurbishment of a hydroelectric dam on the Ashuelot River in Hinsdale; biomass boiler systems at the Cheshire Mills Complex in Harrisville and the High Mowing School in Wilton; and solar photovoltaic arrays on a rooftop at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge and atop a closed sewage lagoon at the Peterborough wastewater treatment facility.

You have probably heard about the Peterborough project. The plan is for Borrego Solar Systems, Inc., to build and own a solar array that will be built on the site of a former sewage lagoon that is no longer in use. Borrego Solar (through its subsidiary, Water Street Solar 1, LLC) would lease the 3.5 acre site from the Town for twenty years and sell the solar power to the Town at a lower rate than what Peterborough currently pays. The solar array will power the wastewater treatment facility and other Town buildings. Over the course of the twenty-year lease, it is estimated that the solar array will save the Town between $500,000 and $1.2 million.

There is zero upfront cost to the Town. The total cost of the Peterborough project is about $2.6 million. The grant from the renewable energy fund is $1.2 million, so Borrego Solar must leverage the grant to obtain an additional $1.4 million in private investments to complete the project. For all projects that obtain grants from the renewable energy fund, the grant only covers part of the project. The applicants, such as Borrego Solar, must fund the remainder or seek investors. This ensures that the applicant has skin in the game.

In Peterborough, the Town must get voter approval to enter into a lease that is longer than five years, and the lease to Borrego Solar would be twenty years. Thus, there will be a Town vote on July 22 for voters to decide whether the Town should lease the closed sewage lagoon to Borrego Solar.

If Peterborough voters approve the lease, Borrego Solar can move forward with obtaining the remaining $1.4 million in financing it needs to build and maintain the solar array.

I encourage all Peterborough voters to take a few minutes out of their day on July 22 to vote in favor of the lease. Your vote will have a direct effect on the development of solar energy in the Monadnock Region, ensuring that the electricity used to deal with your family’s wastewater comes from renewable energy. You will also help establish what will be the largest solar installation in New Hampshire (almost twice as big as what would become the second largest solar system that is atop the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport’s parking garage).

If you do not live in Peterborough, please support other renewable energy projects where you live. If you own a business, are a town official, are a school district or hospital official, or are otherwise in a position to apply for a grant from the renewable energy fund, the next grant solicitation is scheduled to be issued by the PUC in July.

Jason Reimers is an attorney with BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC, in Concord, and a member of the Board of Directors of the New Hampshire Lakes Association.