PETERBOROUGH — Within 30 minutes of the start of the Special Town Meeting on Tuesday, voters cheered and applauded their unanimous vote to OK construction of what will be the largest solar array in the state.
Voters were asked to authorize the Select Board to negotiate the conditions and terms for a 20-year lease for the construction and operation of a 947 kilowatt solar array.
The planned array will be close to double the 500 kilowatt capacity of the state’s current largest solar array at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, said Jack Ruderman, director of Renewable Energy at the state Public Utilities Commission.
“Peterborough is 947 kilowatts, so almost a full megawatt. Whereas the airport is half a megawatt, so it’s almost double.”
The next four largest solar arrays in the state are all under 200 kilowatts, Ruderman said.
One megawatt is enough to power 500 to 750 homes or a large Wal-Mart, he said.
Most home solar arrays the commission receives rebate applications for fall between 4 and 5 kilowatts, Ruderman said.
Earlier this year, the state Executive Council awarded Peterborough a $1.2 million PUC grant for the $2.6 million project.
Borrego Solar, of Lowell, Mass., has agreed to take on the remaining costs and will install ground-mounted solar panels near the new town Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Borrego will own and operate the solar array, and Peterborough officials have agreed to sign a 20-year contract with Borrego to purchase the electricity the photovoltaic array produces.
The project will not cost the town any money, said Peterborough Public Works Director Rodney Bartlet, and the town is not on the hook to construct the solar array if the grant money or Borrego don’t come through.
“The grant goes directly to Borrego, not to the town. We have no commitment to any construction or maintenance dollars. Our commitment is to buy the power generated,” he said.About 3 percent or 131 out of the Peterborough’s 4,749 voters turned out for the Special Town Meeting on Tuesday night. The unanimous vote was taken by a show of cards after the brief meeting.
“It really does show the community is behind the renewable energy efforts that we have here,” Bartlet said.
Town officials expect the solar array to meet most of the town’s electricity needs at a lower cost than it is paying now.
Bartlet said the system is expected to save the town $500,000 to a $1 million over the next 20 years.
Through the solar array agreement, the town would pay 8 cents per kilowatt. The town currently pays a negotiated rate of 7 cents per kilowatt, which is a good price, Bartlet said. However, costs for the town are 14 cents per kilowatt when costs from Public Service of New Hampshire for distribution and transmission, a demand charge and several other smaller fees are added.
The project will be built on 2.7 acres next to the new wastewater treatment plant, where the town’s old septic lagoons are being phased out.
Construction is planned to begin as early as next week and is to be completed by spring.