GROTON – The town could wipe out its Eversource electric bills by building a 5 MW solar array on its capped landfill, a consultant told the Groton Town Council Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.
Robert Klee, former Connecticut DEEP Commissioner now running Klee Sustainability Advisors, told the committee that changes to federal tax incentives under the federal Inflation Reduction Act finally make it financially feasible to put a solar array on top of the landfill next to Flanders Road Transfer Station – a project the town has looked at for years.
“For whatever reasons – tax credits, existing Eversource infrastructure that would need to be upgraded – all these things have made it not really a viable project,” Groton Public Works Director Greg Hanover said. “But due to legislative changes, it looks like it’s now a viable project to install up to a 5 MW solar field up on top of the landfill.”
The council was unanimously in favor of the town working with Klee on an RFP to find developers for both smaller and larger array options on the landfill site. A smaller array would cover the town’s own Eversource electric bills, while a larger array, covering up to 25 acres of the landfill, would allow the town to lease parts the array to other towns, which would generate revenue for Groton.
Klee said the crux of any project’s funding will be the state’s Non-residential Renewable Energy Solutions program [NRES], where up to 100 MW of projects a year are selected from a competitive bid for 20-year power contracts that offer incentives for developers to build what Klee said would be a roughly $10 million project on the landfill.
The goal of the RFP is to evaluate which options are financially viable, Klee said. There’s no guarantee Groton’s project would be selected in the auction, which the state holds twice a year. But Klee said it does give preference to projects built on brownfields or capped landfills – a state policy aimed at taking pressure off of clearing forests and farmland for solar developments.
The project also benefits from new federal tax credits that can cover anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of project costs, and of the necessary Eversource infrastructure upgrades that previously made the project infeasible.
There would be no out of pocket cost for the town, and there would be credits on the town’s Eversource electric bills from the energy produced at the site, Klee said – though he said he was hesitant to give numbers until seeing the responses to the RFP.
“There’s a meter that tracks all the solar energy that’s being generated by that big, wide open space at the edge of town, and you can take that power and offset [the cost] of your [Eversource electric] accounts throughout town,” Klee said. “The annex here, the police station, large loads, your streetlights, and other sorts of things. When the sun is shining on the landfill and it’s turning the meter there, it’s basically turning the meter back on your [Eversource] accounts throughout town.”
The program is for Eversource and United Illuminating customers, so the credits for producing power would only offset Eversource electric bills, not any town properties on Groton Utilities, Klee said. Some of the schools are in Eversource territory, Hanover said.
Councilor Rachael Franco said that she has had solar on her own home for several years, and has saved a significant amount of money from a similar net metering setup to the one proposed for the town.
“I know how much I save per year, so I think this would be great for the town,” Franco said.
Councilor Portia Bordelon said she was supportive of the concept, but would need to see more specific details on the RFP and a potential contract before making a final decision. She said she’d also want to see how the program has worked in other towns, and if there were missing elements those towns learned were needed in a contract.
It’s a positive idea, but it comes down to how it’s rolled out, she said.
“Any chance to get off fossil fuels, I’m in full support,” Bordelon said. “I’m just hoping we have a strong enough RFP for protection. As I stated – What happens if there’s a bankruptcy, what happens if an attorney backs out? There’s multiple hands in it, and it only will be smooth if everyone’s working together.”