Benson Brook Solar Back on Radar

            What for several months seemed to be a stagnant situation with the prospects of a solar array at the Benson Brook Landfill took an energized turn at Monday night’s Marion Energy Management Committee meeting.

            EMC member Alanna Nelson came away from an Eversource presentation at a recent CVEC meeting, calling what she learned an “exciting, big step ahead that we haven’t seen in the long time.” Her takeaway from Eversource is that pricing per watt for the necessary improvements at Benson Brook are “certainly within the realm of affordability.”

            Nelson anticipates that the cost of such a project in Marion will be less than most of the similar projects on Cape Cod. An open period for public comment ends in August, and final phases are projected for November. That means contracts could be established next year. Because a study was done that projects out approximately 15 years, it is believed that the price will remain fixed over that period or until the capacity is filled.

            EMC member Bill Saltonstall asked about a PILOT contract previously projected to pay the town approximately $50,000 per year, but the proposal made by the developer assumed a bottom-level arrangement that Marion was told could change based on Eversource’s cost.

            “Then we have to determine if that is a suitable arrangement,” said Saltonstall. EMC member Jennifer Francis added that the cost of electricity has also changed so the developer may need to deliver a new proposal based on updated information. Nelson was given reason to suspect that there are other developers interested so Francis encouraged the committee to take a proactive stance.

            Accessing documents has become a tiresome exercise for the EMC mainly because there is no central storage location at the Town House and no point person since Town Planner Gil Hilario left Marion’s employ for North Attleboro. Francis pointed out that the EMC is a committee of the Select Board so that is the place to start.

            Fire Station No. 2 was a topic of discussion where it concerns potential for installation of a heat pump. According to EMC Chairman Christian Ingerslev, Marion Facilities Manager Shaun Cormier believes the power supply in that building can run a heat pump even if its electrical system is based on two, as opposed to three-phase power.

            Saltonstall said that to put a heat pump into the next Green Communities grant application and compete in earnest for state support, more complete information will be required. The committee voted to recommend to the Select Board that the board request that Energy Source completes an energy audit for the town.

            Because the secret is out on the efficiency and favored status of heat pumps, there are emerging supply-chain delays and resultant price increases. The heat pumps scheduled for installation in the Town House were bid at approximately $500,000 and are expected for later this year.

Five Green Communities grant pursuits were discussed: heat pumps for the Cushing Community Center, Fire Station No. 2 and the Town House, the progress at the Taber Library and the WWTP temperature controls.

            Francis suggested the EMC make a list of Energy Source requests so that any opportunities to correspond with the company will be optimized by maximum preparation.

            Saltonstall updated the committee on the Sippican Elementary School’s main transformer that was originally added by Green Communities. Saltonstall said it looked like it had a pretty good payback and should be easy for Energy Source to update.

            As for proposals for other municipal buildings and properties, Saltonstall said that targeting projects may be leveraged by the size of available grants. He said he plans to discuss the matter with Green Communities representative Lisa Sullivan.

            In response to the EMC’s interest in Marion’s Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, member Eileen Marum reported that Marion Police Chief Richard Nighelli gave her the town’s evacuation plan. Town Administrator Jay McGrail has been designated to issue evacuation orders, which could also come from the governor.

            Nighelli, Marum reported, wishes to discuss a potential solar canopy in the parking area of the Police Station, Marum invited him to attend the EMC’s August 22 public meeting. Nighelli, she said, is interested in grants for the installation of a canopy and solar panels.

            Marum asked the committee about a solar array atop the Police Station roof. Albeit optimistic, Saltonstall suggested a check on the matter, along with the issue of proper sun exposure.

            Nelson suggested that once CVEC is ready to go forward with Marion’s next set of projects, the committee should have a few projects ready to go. Ingerslev questioned the focal point of such, be it for power or for income. Marum recommended just adding electricity into the grid. Nelson suggested a battery behind the grid would put the town more in control of a project than its developer. Francis believes the Police Department is necessarily focused on what happens if power is out in the whole region.

            Saltonstall said that this might be a telling year in the relationship of the town and Future Generation Wind, the company that provides covering 95 percent of Marion’s power supply for municipal buildings.

            In discussing a reduction of Marion’s municipal carbon footprint, Ingerslev said the EMC needs to make “the community aware that they are also responsible for doing something.”

            Francis said that Wellesley recently produced a climate action plan and said it is something that in Marion would dovetail nicely with the Hazard Mitigation Plan.

            Some of what the EMC can do depends on the Select Board’s approval of the committee’s ongoing effort to revise its scope of work.

            The committee may experience some reorganization this fall, as Tom Friedman seeks to hand off his secretarial role. Nelson may take over when her schedule allows in October. Ingerslev asked if anyone on the committee would nominate a new chairperson and was immediately celebrated for his work in the role and nominated to continue in it.

            Francis and Nelson reported recent encounters with residents they think would make strong additions to the committee.

            The next meeting of the Marion Energy Management Committee is scheduled for Monday, August 22, at 5:00 pm.

Marion Energy Management Committee

By Mick Colageo

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