DALTON, Mass. — The Planning Board is considering approving a solar energy project that could lower the cost of energy for both the town and its residents.
The nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp. started this project about nine years ago and was fully permitted back in 2014.
At the time, Citizens was awarded through a competitive procurement the opportunity to build a solar project on the town's closed landfill and developed a relationship with the landowner of the adjacent Warren farm so it could develop multiple landfills.
The project was declared not viable because the electrical grid could not accommodate it but with recent grid infrastructure upgrades, the project can now be completed.
The company approached the town about a year and a half ago to request that it put out a request for proposal because Massachusetts regulations do not allow it to take on the project without being awarded the bid again.
Although the town was not in a position to put out a RFP for the town's landfill at the time, Emily Byrne, senior director of Citizens Solar, a division of Citizens Energy Corporation, told the board last week that this is a project citizens "would be very happy to engage in and help however we could make that possible."
The corporation does not want to lose any time because the solar program in Massachusetts is first-come, first-served.
"So, we would still be happy to pursue the town's landfill. It just will be on a separate timeline than this one. So we're just trying to advance these as best as we can with the site controls that we have," Byrne said.
To complete this project, Citizens Energy must first get approval from the Planning Board, the Stormwater Commission, and the state Department of Environmental Protections.
Byrne clarified that the company will not be providing the energy and that will be through Eversource. Citizens Energy applied for this project with Eversource two years ago.
"The rates will be discounted, right now it's a 50 percent discount on the credits received. So say we give them $30 of credits this month, they're gonna pay us $15 and that comes off of their bill for Eversource."
Citizens Energy is always looking for new customers. It has six operational Joe-4-Suns projects, one being in Western Mass, and can serve Dalton residents.
Although they are constantly doing marketing campaigns to get low-income residents to sign up, it can be difficult to find people because "it sounds too good to be true," Byrne said. "The project would be designed to help serve over 250 local, regional low income residents that are
eligible through our Joe-4-Sun program."
Prior to starting construction, Citizens Energy will pay outstanding back taxes and has been in discussion with the town tax assessor and treasurer. It would also negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes with the town or through the assessed value of a personal property.
"From a financial standpoint, and from a certainty on the town side, it's often helpful for both parties to have a PILOT so that there's a set amount over every year over those 20 years that the town knows they're getting and developer knows their paying," said Byrne.
The project also offers the opportunity for the town to purchase discounted energy from the facility for municipal buildings.
The project is a "positive use of otherwise undevelopable property," Byrne's presentation said.
According to the presentation, the project would have minimum earthwork so no excavation is proposed.
It intends to use existing roads and stormwater management features. The only underground electrical conduit is going to be at the vehicle turn around at the end. All the other electrical conduits will be in a cable tree so it will be on top, the TRC Companies Inc. representative said.
TRC Companies is representing Citizens Energy for solar permitting matters.
"The solar projects are great, they should be running without any real meddling. And they'll be meeting as we mentioned, we'll be mowing them two or three times a year depending on the actual landfill growth," Byrne said.
The corporation has experience with previous successful Eversource projects so it knows how to navigate the intuitive interconnection process.
Citizens Solar is one of the top developers and owners of landfill solar in Massachusetts, having successfully installed nine projects in Eversource territory and operating 41 projects across the country for a total of 176 megawatts of solar assets.
The organization has just received a national award for its solar farm in Ashland, one of 23 solar farms it's built in Massachusetts.
"We were just awarded a national award for that project for being able to serve and really benefit low income ratepayers across the state, across the Eversource territory because that's who our projects can serve, whoever's territory our project is located," said Byrne.
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