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Selectmen vote to explore solar array with American Capital Energy

Date: 3/14/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — At its March 11 meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted to continue its pursuit of a photovoltaic array on the town's capped landfill.

The board unanimously voted to conduct future meetings with American Capital Energy in order to learn more about the process of installing and taking advantage of the array as well as associated costs.

In response to a request for qualifications that included Wilbraham put out by the Hampshire Council of Governments, American Capital Energy and Broadway Electric both made presentations to the board and the public at the March 4 Board of Selectmen meeting and the selectmen agreed that American Capital's proposal for an 855 kilowatt installation was the more impressive of the two.

Selectman James Thompson said that both companies were solid candidates and he found both presentations informative, but said that he wanted the town to look deeper into the information after what were essentially sales pitches.

"From my standpoint, the next process is still to continue to learn more about what the proposals entail and what the benefits specifically are," he said. "Not all that glitters is gold and I think American Capital at least a couple of times said, 'You've got to get further into this; you have to peel this onion some more to decide if this is something you really want to do.' I'm perfectly willing to go along with them and learn more about how this will specifically impact the town of Wilbraham."

Selectman Robert Russell, who had been the board's liaison through meetings with the Hampshire Council of Governments, the town's engineering and planning staff and both companies prior to the public presentation, cited three major differences he saw between the two companies.

"One is that American Capital Energy has an engineering company that is very familiar with the town," he said. "Number two, they were very realistic in their approach to the future costs and the escalators of those costs and thirdly, I thought they had a better approach to their presentation. They are the ones that had my attention."

Board of Selectmen Chair Robert Boilard said he looked at the potential solar project as a way for residents to see some benefits from a program they essentially fund through their taxes, which go toward subsidies for renewable energy companies.

"I've looked at solar in many different ways before this even came down the pike for the town. I'm familiar with the process and my only problem with solar is when you're looking at a $3 million system with a $1.5 million return on investment, someone had to outlay that money," he said. "Going forward, this is a project that is paid for by rate payers in the town of Wilbraham and taxpayers in the town of Wilbraham, but this is also a way to bring some of those dollars back to the citizens of Wilbraham."

He added he was also most impressed with American Capital, but he also had concerns regarding expenses.

"My whole thing in moving this on to the next step is to find the cost that American Capital did not include, which is the National Grid hookup, which could be $1, it could be $1 million. We don't know," he said. "It's an expense that would be built into the lifespan of the solar project."