Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mayor: Solar Farm Could be Beneficial for Fitchburg

If Bill Macek has his way, a 3-megawatt solar farm will be placed on his property on Alpine Road, directly behind the WPKZ Radio parcel containing the station's towers.

Macek, the general manager and part-owner of WPKZ, said Monday the proposed facility will have nothing to do with the radio station, except that an easement may have to be granted through the station's property to most directly access the panels.

Macek said the idea originally came from another party who wanted to create a solar farm, but eventually walked away. Still interested in the idea, Macek went to Investar, LLC of Worcester, and approached Mayor Lisa Wong.

The City Council recently approved Wong's petition to allow her to negotiate a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Investar, which would pay the city a set amount annually per megawatt.

If solar panels were to be assessed as personal property in terms of taxes, the cost would be so high that no one would want to invest in solar energy, Macek said.

"Right now, the piece of land is not really yielding any taxes at all. There's not much happening on it," Wong said. "An investment like this can be a win-win for the city and for private developers. It won't be a drain on any city resources, yet it will increase our tax base. We welcome this type of investment, especially in areas where it costs us a lot of money for other types of development."

She said that if development were to occur in an area like where this property sits, further infrastructure would have to be built as well, and traffic and other issues could arise. Putting a solar farm away from prime development land is important, Wong said, because housing should be closer to public transportation opportunities and city services.

"I think this is the perfect investment for this piece of land at this time," Wong said.

Housing creates additional expenses for the city in the schools, in upkeep, and in police and fire protection, Macek said.

"This brings none of those expenses to Fitchburg but will pay a very generous payment under the PILOT that will be negotiated by the solar developers," he said.

Macek, who lives in Haverhill and has been a city councilor there for 17 years, said a recurring revenue project such as this is a dream for most communities.

The 40-acre property is also very out of the way, with only a few homes nearby, Macek said. The solar panels will be barely visible, if it all, from most locations, he said.

Macek said he has already spoken with Unitil about tying the system into the power grid, and was told there is adequate electrical infrastructure in place.

David Dunham, president and CEO of Investar, said the 3-megawatt solar farm would create approximately 4.6 million kilowatt hours and has the potential to provide power for residents when their normal power sources fail due to snowstorms and other occurrences.

"The other interesting part of the project, is that there's no actual installation into the land of any of the panels," Macek said.

Foundations are not required, he said. The land will be sculpted and then a weed mat will be put down to cut growth of vegetation, and the panels would be set on stands and weighted down so they won't move or fall over, he said.

Installing them in this manner makes it much easier to dismantle them later if necessary, Macek said. The technology will degrade over time like nearly everything does, he said, and will likely soon be replaced with something more efficient, he said.

If all goes as planned, Macek may eventually apply to double his facility to six megawatts, which would require the installation of upgraded infrastructure, he said. Doing this would also likely double the agreement with the city, potentially making the deal very lucrative for Fitchburg, he said.

"Myself and David are very hopeful this can now move along at a fairly good pace so we don't miss this construction season," Macek said.

He said Investar may also offer solar panels to the city for a municipal building or a school as an added benefit to the community.

SOURCE: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/local/ci_20877394/mayor-solar-farm-could-be-beneficial-fitchburg

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