DERRY — Town officials are saying Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto earlier this month of a bill that would have expanded electric net metering has cost the town nearly $1 million in potential electricity savings for taxpayers.
Town Council Chairman Neil Wetherbee and Town Councilor Joshua Bourdon, who represents the town on the Net Zero Task Force, say the bill would enable the construction of a 5-megawatt solar array that would supply enough energy to cover the town’s municipal and school district energy needs.
“We would have been the first town in the state of New Hampshire that would be net zero, from a school and town perspective,” Bourdon said.
Net Zero Task Force Chairman Jeff Moulton agreed with that assessment and said he’s disappointed by the veto.
He said a 5-megawatt buildout over 10 to 15 acres of town-owned land would ultimately save taxpayers approximately $1.2 million.
If lawmakers don’t override the governor’s veto this fall, the town will be limited to building a 1-megawatt solar field on 4 acres, which Moulton said would save the town about $240,000 in taxes annually, by covering about 45% of the town’s electricity needs. Moulton said the 1-megawatt array would still result in a discounted electricity rate of $60,000 annually while it’s still owned by the developers.
Whether the solar array is 1 or 5 megawatts, the savings would materialize in about five years after the construction of the array is paid off.
It’s estimated to cost about $3 million to build the smaller array, and between $12 and $15 million for the full buildout.
The 1-megawatt project already went out to bid, and the task force is entering negotiations with a contractor.
“We prefer not to name them right now because if contract negotiations don’t go well, then we will go to the next vendor,” Moulton said.
The 1-megawatt solar array was proposed to the Town Council in January, and the council granted initial approval, scheduling a vote for final approval in August. Bourdon said he is confident the town council will approve it then. Wetherbee and Councilor Jim Morgan said there is strong support for the project, but stopped short of predicting the outcome of the vote.
“It looks very favorable, but I don’t speculate on votes in the middle of a process,” Morgan said.
Wetherbee said he hopes Derry’s representatives in the House and Senate will vote to override the veto, if such a vote takes place.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a supporter of the governor but acknowledging he’s just wrong on this issue,” Wetherbee said.
Morgan, a Republican, said he wanted to see more data before backing the claims that the bill would enable the town to become fully net zero, but agreed the bill would be good for the town.
“The governor is faced with many tough decisions in the climate that exists,” Morgan said. “His veto does not allow us to move forward with anything bigger than what was proposed today. That is unfortunate for what perhaps could have been a tax-reduced help to Derry.”
In his veto message, Sununu called the bill a “regressive cost burden on citizens that benefits large-scale solar developers while hurting all ratepayers, including the elderly and those on fixed incomes.”
He said the bill was a subsidy that would cost ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in electric bills over the life of the program. He said he was committed to advancing renewable energy in the state, but that we “should not allow our good intentions to mask a bad policy.”
Bourdon said he’s “devastated” by the veto, saying it makes it harder to cut taxes and maintain services.
“I’m trying to come up with clever ways to bail out a property-poor community,” Bourdon said.
In the meantime, he said he plans to go to other communities and offer assistance in how to create a net zero task force of their own and create similar renewable energy initiatives.