Warner solar array denied

Monitor Staff
Friday, March 11, 2016
Selectman David Hartman installed solar panels on his home two years ago, but he couldn’t convince the town of Warner to do the same.

At Wednesday’s annual meeting, Hartman and other town officials failed to muster enough votes for a 100-kilowatt municipal solar array. Years in the making, the proposal failed to reach a necessary two-thirds majority by just five ballots.

The count was 139-77; the measure needed 144 votes to pass. A motion to reconsider also failed.

The solar field would have cost nearly $365,000, though only $10,000 would have come from taxes. Town officials planned to use federal grants and a $75,000 rebate from the state Public Utilities Commission.

“This does work,” Hartman said. “I had to prove it to myself. . . . I’m not sure about a whole lot of things in my life, but I am sure about this one thing.”

But some residents questioned what they saw as too small a profit margin – and a big risk if the promised grants and rebates don’t materialize.

“This technology is green,” resident John Heaton said. “That means it’s very trendy, but it’s very expensive. If the government decides they won’t subsidize it, we’re stuck with the bill.”

The array would have been built near the transfer station in 2016, and Hartman and other officials had promised the town would see savings in the very first year of operation. (Another array of the same size is planned for the Warner Village Water District; residents in that area will vote separately on that proposal next week.)

Warner would have built the solar farm under the state’s group net metering law. A representative from Harmony Energy Works of Hampton, which would have constructed the array, said the necessary application process was already moving.

The town currently spends about $30,000 per year for electric costs, and Selectman Clyde Carson said savings with solar power would be between $4,000 and $8,000 per year – immediately.

“We have a net savings on this project coming right out of the gate,” Carson said.

But some residents worried about the financing and the warranty for the array.

John Leavitt, a member of the budget committee, has panels on his own home. But he spoke against the proposal at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“The town’s project is not like Dave’s solar array and my solar array,” Leavitt said.

A residential customer can power his or her home directly with solar panels, and then get a credit from the utility that can negate the electric bill. The town, however, would still be paying its regular bill, and that cost would be indirectly offset with revenue as Eversource buys the electricity generated by the array.

Like Heaton, Leavitt worried aloud that arrangement isn’t reliable if the savings do not materialize.

“I voted against this because I thought the profit margin was too small,” Levitt said.

Voters also approved a $3.03 million operating budget, up about 2 percent from last year, and a roundabout near Exit 9. They agreed to put $100,000 into a capital reserve fund for a new fire station, and the selectmen told the crowd they are pursuing a property at 148 N. Main St. for that project.

Without any surplus funds, Town Administrator Jim Bingham suggested the entire warrant could add nearly $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value to the town’s portion of the tax rate. For a $200,000 home, that increase would mean an additional $200 to the tax bill.

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