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Warner seeks public input on town solar farm

Last modified: 6/12/2014 12:28:54 AM
Warner officials are considering building a solar farm the size of a soccer field to offset electricity costs for up to 10 of the town’s buildings.

Tonight at 7 in town hall, Warner’s energy committee and board of selectmen will host a public meeting for residents to hear about the town’s solar array proposal, ask questions and add input.

“The energy committee is looking at this because it’s fairly clear that besides personnel costs, energy costs are going to be our biggest challenge in the next 20 years,” Warner Town Administrator Jim Bingham said. Any way to reduce or minimize the costs will be helpful, he said, and this meeting is a first step to get public input and find volunteers willing to help.

Under New Hampshire’s recently passed “group net metering” law, Warner could build a solar farm, generate income from the surplus energy it produces and use that money to offset electricity costs for several town buildings.

“We produce electricity, it goes into the grid, and we get a credit back on the power that we put in,” said Clyde Carson, a selectman and member of the energy committee.

Since the plan is in its early stages, it is still unclear what exact generating capacity the solar farm would have, how much it would cost, how it would be paid for and who would develop the project.

But the solar farm that town officials are considering building would produce enough power to offset the 10 largest town-owned electric meters. Those could include the town offices, fire and police departments, transfer station, highway department, library, and water precinct – a facility that alone accounts for about 40 percent of the town’s electric bill, Carson said.

Town officials estimate the project would cost a few hundred-thousand dollars and said the financing could come from a variety of sources, including grants, incentives or town money. The payback on the investment would be 10 years or fewer, Bingham said.

And since panels are typically under warranty for a 25-year lifespan, theoretically the town could get 10 to 15 years of free electricity, Bingham said. “That is something to take a serious look at.”

In 2012, the town spent roughly $26,000 on its electricity bill.

Officials estimate the town’s proposed solar array would cover the size of a soccer field and its generating capacity would likely be calculated from the town’s historic energy use.

“What we currently use is what we are going to try to generate,” Bingham said.

In 2013, the town used roughly 152,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity among eight town buildings. That figure doesn’t include the water precinct, which Bingham estimates uses upward of 200,000 kilowatt- hours annually.

Officials have so far identified two potential town-owned sites for the solar array: Bagley Playing Fields and a plot of land behind the town garage. Carson hopes that more potential sites could come to light at the meeting tonight.

Following the meeting, the town will likely put out a request for quotes to gauge interest from companies. “I am fairly certain we are going to get responses back,” Carson said. He hopes the project could be presented to the budget committee next year and turn into a complete proposal to take to the town.

“Our hope is to do it for the next town meeting,” he said. “This meeting is the kickoff, we’re hoping to get some good public input.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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