The long-standing solar project at Benson Brook landfill is finally achieving a timeline, reported member Alanna Nelson at Monday night’s Marion Energy Management Committee meeting.
Nelson said that the Eversource connection is complete, and the connection to the grid has been approved.
Committee members agreed that while revenue is now projected at $100,000 per year (down from $140,000) the financial lease cost remains under consideration. Nelson said incentives would give the town more opportunity to negotiate with a developer so the lease might theoretically go back up. Francis said that the incentives are so much larger that Marion should also make sure in negotiations to reap some benefit.
The public-comment period is closed, but the study will not be officially approved until November. The Cape & Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) will presumably negotiate with the developer, and installation is hoped for next fall.
Smaller photovoltaics on town property, reported EMC member Jennifer Francis, have become a quandary because some local contractors say they are dismissed by the CVEC in favor of out-of-state low bidders.
What Marion decides about the size of a solar canopy over the parking lot at the Police Station is in Chief Richard Nighelli’s purview. Cost estimates would be based on size.
Marion is a CVEC town but according to Nelson is not contractually bound to pursue any solar project through that agency. Nonetheless, Nelson believes that there are moving parts to consider and that should the CVEC take up grant-application management, procurement and distribution of funds, there would be great advantages.
“I think there are some really wonderful horizons if CVEC decides to play a different role,” said Nelson, noting that the agency is looking at smaller projects that developers do not want. “Now whether it changes who they want to install those projects is another question.”
EMC member Bill Saltonstall suggested that there “ought to be a nice, dry lot somewhere in this town where we can install some solar. … not sure who to go to with that investigation.” EMC (and Planning Board) member Eileen Marum recalled that the Planning Board voted against such a project. Francis said the decision was rendered “because of the clear-cutting prohibition there.”
Francis is concerned that Marion could go into a stall waiting for large agencies to determine a business strategy.
“There’s this evolution going on, and we’re getting nowhere fast,” she said. “We use to get a lot of help from Gil (Hilario) as far as looking for grants and applying for grants … I feel like we’re missing a lot of opportunities because we’re not town planners … there’s a lot of money on the table and I feel like we’re missing it.”
Since Hilario left Marion to become North Attleboro’s town planner, Town Administrator Jay McGrail planned to split grant writing with new Town Planner Doug Guey-Lee.
Hilario typically suggested projects based on grant-funding research, while it appears current grant pursuits are more driven by existing funding needs. Nonetheless, Francis articulated her concern over the news that McGrail is among four finalists for the town administrator job in Middleborough.
“Obviously, he’s looking for a bigger town. I’m bummed. I think Jay is fantastic. It’s really too bad,” she said.
Speaking of grant applications, EMC Chairman Christian Ingerslev said that McGrail indicated he would apply to the Seaport Economic Council for the final $1,000,000 needed to build the new Marine Center. “It’s a little bit of worry as far as the town is concerned,” said Ingerslev.
Saltonstall indicated that the EMC is in “pretty good shape” regarding the Green Communities annual report due this fall.
Francis suggested the committee publicize a comprehensive list of grant projects that have made Marion a Green Community. Saltonstall said the state agency’s reports go back five years with cost figures.
Nelson said she would email Green Communities regional representative Lisa Sullivan on the matter. The EMC’s efforts have reduced the town’s electrical bill by over 18%, albeit very little in the past year.
According to Saltonstall, the three largest energy users in Marion are the Wastewater Treatment Plant, Sippican Elementary School and the Police Department. Fuel costs are obviously up but so is usage, he said, by 40%.
The EMC will appear before the Select Board during the latter’s October 18 meeting, and the committee spent significant time strategizing its presentation.
While its members are in agreement that the committee’s purview has taken on climate-related issues and would desire to be reidentified accordingly, the concern was articulated that the Select Board would reject a new name and thusly clamp down on the committee’s efforts to address those long-range issues.
Francis and Ingerslev suggested being more pragmatic in their approach, using what Francis figured will be a 20-minute window to state their case. Marum agreed and suggested recommending clean energy for Heron Cove Estates, the new DPW and the Marine Center.
Ingerslev reiterated the committee’s recommendation that the town ban the use of fossil fuels in any new public construction. Nelson noted that Heron Cove has proposed electric heat. “The price of gas or oil is to our advantage,” she said.
While Marum said Marion’s power lines need to go underground and that everyone needs to be on board with a grassroots, widespread effort to mitigate climate change, Saltonstall considers the concept broad, difficult and “beyond us in some ways.
“We can warn them, but we cannot say to the town, ‘These should be the only issues.’ Taxes are going to be a big issue, we can’t always fix that,” he said. “There may be things we need to do before we figure out how having a nuclear plant somewhere may be necessary.”
The committee settled into a plan to address its success with Green Communities projects, the progress on Benson Brook solar, request more help with grant research and finally recommend a ban on any new fossil-fuel infrastructure.
Working out the details will require enough correspondence and review that the EMC decided to hold a special meeting the day before it meets with the Select Board.
The next meeting of the Marion Energy Management Committee is scheduled for Monday, October 17, at 5:00 pm.
Marion Energy Management Committee
By Mick Colageo