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Solar project in Manchester voted down by Executive Council

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 22. 2015 10:36PM

CONCORD — On a 3-2 vote, the Executive Council shot down a plan for a solar array to generate electricity for Manchester city government.

The Public Utilities Commission recommended the state use $997,500 from the Renewable Energy Fund to help pay for a $3.9 million project to pay for solar panels on the closed city landfill.

Smaller than what was proposed several years ago by Public Service of NH, the current project from ACE Manchester Solar LLC would have a 1 megawatt capacity and save the city an estimated $26,000 annually in energy costs.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas had indicated in the past he was disappointed with the plan and the return to city residents in terms of savings, citing a project proposed by Public Service of New Hampshire that would have saved an estimated $100,000 annually.

“I’m not surprised with the vote,” said Gatsas. “It wasn’t a very good project for the site. I thought there were much better projects for the landfill. Originally they were talking a much larger return for the city, but they were down to $26,000 a year from the numbers I saw. That’s much less than what they came in and presented to us. Tying up that land for this project is not right.”

Under the proposal, the city would purchase electricity at a rate just below 6 cents per kilowatt/hour, which would result in $26,500 in savings in the first year of the project, according to the developers’ calculations. The city would also receive an annual tax payment of $5,000. The savings in future years would rise based on the increase in electricity rates.

Manchester Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig, a mayoral candidate, said the project had support of a majority of city aldermen.

“We had a board vote and I voted to support it,” said Craig. “It was my understanding that this was the first phase, and the project could be expanded in the future.”

“This should have went through,” said Manchester Alderman Keith Hirschmann, who represents Ward 12 where the landfill is located. “The full board voted for this. I know the mayor didn’t vote for it, but the full board did, and now our constituents won’t benefit from it.”

Hirschmann said he felt it was wrong that Manchester wouldn’t benefit from the state’s renewable energy trust funds.

“This would have been the largest solar project in the state,” said Hirschmann. “Instead we have a landfill that will sit dormant, while other communities benefit from the renewable energy trust funds.”

Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, noted there is board support for the project, with the only reservation that it could be larger.

But Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, said the money would be better invested in hydro projects, or bio-mass or geo-thermal, which produce far more energy for less money.

He said renewable energy projects are good, but solar projects are not cost effective compared to other renewable sources.

But Pappas noted the council has approved solar projects in the past and the technology is better and better.

The chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, Martin Honigberg, noted the relative cost to create electricity is higher than other sources today, but cheaper than other projects in the past.

Of the 28 proposals the PUC received this year to use the Renewable Energy Fund, 20 were for solar panels, he noted.

“We plan to refine the process so solar is not the dominant recipient of these funds,” he said.

But Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern said the goal is to diversify energy sources and the state is behind its neighbors who have far greater solar capacity.

“It’s wrong to penalize a project just because it’s solar,” Van Ostern said.

But Sununu said he believes New Hampshire is ahead of other states because it is not spending money foolishly on solar panels when other sources are far more efficient.

Pappas and Van Ostern voted in favor of the Manchester project, but Sununu, and councilors David Wheeler, R-Milford, and Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield voted against the project.

Kenney voted with Pappas and Van Ostern to award a $580,757 renewable energy grant to Milford Town Solar LLC to place solar panels on that town’s landfill.

Kenney said Gatsas does not support the project, preferring the earlier, larger project, while the Milton selectmen unanimously supported that project.

“Councilor Kenney cited Mayor Gatsas’ opposition to the project,” said Craig. “I think it’s a lost opportunity for the city.”

“For the record, I never contacted Councilor Kenney on this issue,” said Gatsas. “I’m not sure if one of the other councilors communicated my feelings on it to him, but I never spoke to him about this.”;

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