May 21 2015

Town Meeting Gives Go-Ahead on Two Solar Panel Projects

By: Rich Hosford

After a lengthy discussion Burlington Town Meeting voted to approve four warrant articles that would give the town permission to pursue two solar panel projects in town. 


Two of the articles would allow the town to enter into 20-year lease agreements with a company that would install and operate solar panels on the rooftops of Burlington High School and Marshall Simonds Middle School. The other two articles would allow the town to enter into lease agreements with photovoltaic companies and private businesses in town that have space for solar canopies over parking lots or on parking garages. 


Burlington would see financial benefits if the town is able to work out agreements with solar panel companies and the private businesses that would host the solar panels. The way it works, Town Administrator John Petrin explained, is that with the school sites, the town would receive income from leasing the roof space to the solar company. It would also get financial benefits from the electricity that will be generated. 


With the private companies, the town would set up an agreement between the solar companies and the landlords to set up the solar panels over parking lots and parking garages. In those projects the town would purchase electricity credits at a reduced price and use them to pay off part of the town’s electrical bill. 


In total the town could make between $450,000 and $650,000 a year, depending on how many private companies lease parking space to solar companies and how much room is available. There is a time limit, however, as in order to qualify for a program put forward by the state that allows the town to purchase the discount credits, Burlington would need to set up the deal where a private business leases parking space to a solar panel company by December of this year. 


Petrin said that Burlington’s current contract with the third-party entity it uses to purchase energy, Trans Canada, expires in 2016 and that due to changes in capacity costs the town could be paying an additional $464,000 per year by June of 2017.


Some Town Meeting members raised concerns about the warrant articles. One issue for some was that after they approved them, town officials would enter into the agreements without further Town Meeting oversight. There was also a concern about what would happen if the solar panel company went out of business before the end of the lease, but town council said conditions for that possibility would be worked out in the lease agreement. 

 

A couple members also raised concerns about possible damage to school roofs, something that would also be covered in the lease agreement, and how the schools will cleared of snow in the winter. 

 
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