Saturday, April 5, 2014

Threatened Solar Projects Find New Life

BARNSTABLE — Solar energy projects put on hold in January when the installer went out of business are back on thanks to an extension granted last week by state officials of the time available to qualify for a crucial incentive.

The Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative announced Friday that nearly 13 megawatts' worth of solar projects in nine towns had been successfully transferred from Broadway Electrical Company Inc. to G&S Solar Installers LLC of New York. G&S will contract with Fischbach & Moore Electric Group, LLC of Boston and other local contractors to build the systems, according to a cooperative press release.

The cooperative was formed in 2007 to pursue renewable energy projects for its 17 member towns, Barnstable and Dukes counties and the Cape Light Compact. The compact was formed in 1997 to buy power in bulk for electric customers on the Cape and Vineyard, provide energy-efficiency programs for local businesses and residents, and advocate for ratepayers.

The cooperative, which has relied almost exclusively on ratepayer funds collected by the compact to pay its bills, already has installed about 760 kilowatts as part of seven projects across the Cape. In November the cooperative held a series of groundbreakings for additional projects, totaling 16 megawatts, that are being installed by American Capital Energy at eight sites on the Cape and Vineyard.

Broadway Electrical was tapped in 2012 to install another group of projects for the cooperative known as Round II which, at the time, was estimated to include 50 megawatts of solar energy worth $200 million. That figure was cut in half by March 2013 because of problems with roofs, concerns over clear-cutting and complicated approval processes to connect to the grid and to locate panels on land used for other purposes.

Additional problems with projects in Brewster and Hyannis reduced the total to the 13 megawatts now under contract with G&S.

Since an abrupt stop to work by Broadway in January the company, which announced it was going out of business after existing for 77 years, has been in negotiations with G&S over the transfer of the projects, according to cooperative officials.

Representatives with G&S did not return messages left Friday seeking comment for this story. Broadway officials have not returned messages seeking comment since announcing the company was closing.

Beyond the transfer of the contracts, the agreements with cooperative members have not changed, cooperative consultant Liz Argo said Sunday.

The cooperative made sure that all of the protections in place for its members remained, she said.

One of the keys to the successful transfer was a decision last week by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to grant an additional 30 days beyond a June 30 construction deadline to qualify the projects for incentives through the state Solar Care-Out program, according to Argo.

The program allows qualifying solar energy projects to generate solar renewable energy certificates, which can be sold to generators seeking to meet state renewable energy standards.

Krista Selmi, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said cooperative officials had requested the extension which was granted.

"In the regulations an extension would only be granted in a case of force majeure," Selmi said.

Force majeure is a legal term for a circumstance that could not have reasonably been anticipated, as was the case with Broadway — a long-standing company — going out of business, Selmi said.

The cooperative is the only customer of Broadway to request an extension so far but the state would consider other requests under similar conditions, Selmi said.

Argo said it's not clear whether the cooperative's projects would be complete within 30 days of the original deadline because it depends on the schedule of the companies contracted to do the work. The state's extension is for "at least" 30 days, leaving the door open for the possibility of more time, Argo and Selmi said.

Argo said a reduction in the projects originally contemplated as part of Round II was not a surprise.

"The list was really to see what the vendors thought was feasible," she said.

It is unclear whether the Brewster and Hyannis projects eliminated from Round II might be possible under a second state-run solar energy carve-out program, Argo said.

Unlike other projects on roofs and capped landfills the proposed Brewster and Hyannis projects would have involved the clearing of trees, which is not the type of project being encouraged by state officials under the new program.


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