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Broadway Electric, American Capital pitch solar projects

Date: 3/7/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — Representatives from two renewable energy firms stated their cases to be the company to install a photovoltaic array on the town's capped landfill at the Disposal and Recycling Center on Boston Road at the March 4 Board of Selectmen meeting.

Broadway Electrical Company Inc. and American Capital Energy both gave presentations that lasted more than an hour apiece outlining their prior experience, plans for the site and Wilbraham's estimated cost savings and benefits as part of a large solar energy movement the town joined through the Hampshire Council of Governments.

"At least a year ago, we solicited information for Wilbraham and many other communities here in Western Massachusetts to put out a large regional solar RFP (Request for Proposals)," Eric Weiss, sustainability director for the Hampshire Council of Governments explained. "[Town Administrator Robert] Weitz got in touch with me and asked to be included."

Weiss went on to say that the Hampshire Council of Governments vetted the firms on behalf of the town based on some major criteria.

"We had five potential vendors that put in qualified bids and we whittled that down to three of which two have qualified proposals for your landfill," he said, explaining that the Hampshire Council of Governments focused on finding Massachusetts-based companies that are supporting the market in the Commonwealth with a strong track record in the state including familiarity with regulations and area utilities and full financial backing.

Weiss added that in addition to Weitz, he had met with members of the town's engineering and planning staff as well as Selectman Robert Russell. Those parties, he said, had been privy to previous presentations by the companies and "the idea was this now seems like a significant or viable option for Wilbraham."

Jeff Wooten of Broadway Electrical said that his company was celebrating its 77th year, was one of the top-100 solar contractors in the country and had the most solar installations in Massachusetts.

Current projects, he said, include arrays in Lee and Lenox, several school districts including Medway, Milton and Tantasqua Regional, the array at Logan Airport's Terminal B parking garage in Boston, several with the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative and even one at a cranberry bog at Rosebrook Farm in Wareham.

Broadway's project would be a 772.56-kilowatt (kW) system on the site of the landfill, which Wooten said would not require significant site work. The company would lease the site from the town and maintain it and would be responsible for all capital expenditures.

The system, he said would provide a 93-percent offset for the town's municipal buildings.

While the town currently pays an average of 19 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), he claimed that through a program called net metering, the town would earn a credit of 13.9 cents. With Broadway offering a rate of 9.28 cents per kWh, Wooten claimed the town's cost of electricity would be 4.52 cents per kWh.

With the assumption that utility rates would go up 2 percent annually, in 20 years, the town could see a total cash savings of approximately $1.4 million, he said.

He added that as a partner with the IBEW, Broadway could tap into a workforce he described as "hungry" in order to quickly develop and maintain the site. He also said that the company has a significant track record working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), stating that in his opinion, it was easier to work in Western Massachusetts than in the southeastern part of the state.

Carter Wall, director of the Performance Solar Division, added that the company would monitor the site through a web-based program that could also be accessed by town personnel to check on the productivity of the array.

Bill Fitzpatrick, sales development manager for American Capital Energy, explained that his company would act as the lead developer, while Renewable Energy Development Partners (REDP) would address local development, contracts, permitting and finance and Weston and Sampson would address any engineering and permitting issues involving the landfill and the DEP, describing the company as "the best experts on building on landfills."

Fitzpatrick said the 8-year-old company started by former executives of leading German solar company RWE Schott has more than 80 megawatts (MW) either installed or in development nationwide. Of that 80, five MW are currently operating in Massachusetts and the firm is developing more than 20 MW on landfills.

Projects currently operating include a 2.2 MW field in Springfield, a 1.8 MW site in Pittsfield and a 1.4 MW installation in Everett and Revere. Landfill projects in Dennis (6 MW), Mashpee (1.8 MW) and Duxbury (500 kW) are currently in the pre-construction or permitting phases.

Hank Ouimet of REDP explained American Capital Energy's proposal is for a slightly larger array than Broadway's, producing 855 kW. In addition to solar installations on top of the landfill, a small array would be placed in the northwest corner of the property along the railroad tracks.

Ouimet said that the site would be guaranteed an annual energy output of 821,424 kWh with an expected annual energy output of 966,381 kWh. With the 13.9 cent net metering credit, the electricity price through American Capital Energy would be 5.9 cents. The total net benefit to the town after 20 years — total net meter credits minus the cost of electricity from the array — would be approximately $1.8 million, he said.

At the end of the 20-year agreement with either company, the town would have the option of buying the installation, renewing their agreement with the company or having the company dismantle and remove the system. Both firms said that their solar equipment experienced an annual degrading percentage of a fraction of a percent and would be operating at more than 80 percent of its original capacity after 20 years.