The Stow Independent... Online                                                        November 2, 2011

HomeClauseSolar FarmMCAS   X-Country Public Safety LogCalendarPhotos

Solar Farm Hoping for Roots in Stow

By Nancy Arsenault
Solar

   A Massachusetts company is looking to install a twenty-acre solar panel field on a property that resides in both Stow and Bolton.   Recent legislation allows renewable energy utilities to locate in any municipality where a site is conducive to their needs, the property owner is in agreement and local permitting requirements can be met.
   Renewable Energy of Massachusetts LLC, in partnership with Syncarpha Capital and Hudson Light & Power Company, already have a signed lease to the 12-acre Stow portion of the land on the western side of Delaney Street, just inside the intersection with Great Road. This open field is owned by Teradyne Corp., which acquired the GenRad site on Rt. 117 in Bolton some years ago, including the Stow parcel.  A lease is still being negotiated for the 8-acre Bolton parcel, according to Renewable Energy sources.
   The site plan is categorized as a 2.5 megawat DC layout; something that, when in full operation can glean enough solar energy to produce electricity for 400 homes. “This facility will generate approximately 3 million kilowatt hours of AC-grid ready power each year, though the generation amount degrades as the facility ages and the system should last at least 30 years,” said spokesmen for Renewable Energy. 
   “We are looking to do more projects like this,” said Yakov Levin of HL&P.  The privately-owned utility has already experimented with solar by installing a residential system on the roof of their power plant in Hudson, to not only bring additional power to their operation, but to serve as a live model for interested homeowners who may be considering a similar solar layout.
    Before even a shovelful of soil can be turned over for construction, some hurdles still have to be overcome, according to the project’s supporters.
   Most recently, Sycopath Capital appealed to Stow’s Board of Assessors to grant the project a PILOT tax status, (Payment in Lieu of Taxes). This agreed upon lump sum would be similar to arrangements the town has with HL&P and which many other towns have with utilities, both traditional and renewable.
   The project has offered to pay the town of Stow $12,000 per year for the PILOT, and then also pay the property taxes as determined by the assessment, an amount that now comes in at a little less than $8,000 annually for the twelve acres.  Together, the two payments would equal close to $20,000 for the town each year.
   “The fact of the matter is that solar energy's equipment costs remain too expensive, compared to fossil fuel energy,  still to be able to deliver a town wholesale power while also paying a high yearly tax bill. The economics of large scale solar projects are not viable if the project costs get too high, such as high tax rates, which would put the project at risk of not getting done,” explained the executives of Renewable Energy, Bob Knowlton and Brian Kopperi. 
   Last week, the Board of Selectmen were  told by Town Administrator William Wrigley that the Assessors did not favor a PILOT plan. Assessor Dotty Wilbur later said that more tax revenue could be collected if the property became a residential lot, or a few residential lots, each with a newly constructed home.  “The PILOT proposed in the Syncarpha letter is particularly unfair to the town since the amount proposed is hardly the equivalent of the property tax obligation based on full and fair market value. It more closely matches the tax obligation of one new home,” the Assessors wrote to the Selectmen in October.
   The site is currently not being offered for sale, only for lease, according to Renewable Energy spokesmen. It is also classified as a Brownfield site, one that is undergoing continual cleanup efforts and monitoring by the DEP in regards to the existence of hazardous waste in the property’s environment from earlier manufacturing operations; something that does not make it an ideal site for residential development. 
   “While the Assessors understand the environmental significance of green energy, as well as the need for budgeting, they also understand that ultimately, this is a business with substantial rewards in the form of grants to build and credits – Solar Renewable Energy Certificates,” explained Assessor Dotty Wilbur of the government subsidies that will help fund the project.    Using a calculation formula associated with a proposed bill in the House concerning solar projects and a depreciating tax schedule, the Assessors determined that an acceptable annual tax for the project would be $100,000.
   The Assessors have agreed to look for guidance from the Department of Revenue as to how renewable energy utility projects should be taxed, an option supported by the Selectmen.
   ”A 2.5 MW solar facility in partnership with Teradyne, Hudson Light & Power, Syncarpha Solar and the Town of Stow would be a win-win for all parties involved.  A solar facility is an appropriate and positive reuse of this otherwise undevelopable site.  Solar facilities are quiet, unobtrusive neighbors that are low to the ground (10 feet off the ground at their highest point).  The facility will provide clean, affordable, renewable energy to the people of Stow, through its utility Hudson Light & Power, for decades to come,” said Renewable Energy in a written statement on Monday.
    Though the developers have indicated that a favorable tax structure will be a deciding factor in locating this project in Stow, they are still moving  forward to gain permit approval for their design.  They hope to begin construction in the spring of 2012, anticipating a short 4-6-month period before the entire farm would be producing useable energy.