Chilmark will seek solar array proposal for capped landfill

Squibnocket Beach.
File photo by Lynn Christoffers

Squibnocket Beach.

Chilmark selectmen, in a meeting Tuesday with Richard Andre, president of Vineyard Power, agreed to issue a request for proposals to build a photovoltaic (PV) array on the capped town landfill off Tabor House Road.

Selectmen also have the option of joining with Cape and Vineyard Electrical Cooperative (CVEC), another energy cooperative, created under the provisions of Mass General Law in 2007 to assist municipalities to develop and operate renewable energy facilities.

In fact, as selectman Warren Doty explained, CVEC may not be a competitor for the project. Mr. Doty, a board member of Vineyard Power, read a letter from the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) announcing that the department will not grant a waiver to allow Chilmark to enter into the CVEC project at this time. Mr. Doty refrained from voting on the decision to issue a request for proposals.

In other business, selectmen took no action on a proposal, for which some preliminary investigation has been done, to construct an artificial reef at sea off the Squibnocket shore. Early views from experts say that a feasibility study for such an anti-erosion project would be expensive, and the construction of the barrier itself would be enormously expensive.

Mr. Andre explained that the town could put out a request for proposals (RFP) for an outside company to build a PV array at the town landfill and that Vineyard Power, a power cooperative, would likely be one of the companies to respond.

Vineyard Power is able to attract investors who in turn receive tax benefits, Mr. Andre said. The town would then enter into a power purchase agreement to buy back the power at a reduced rate and also receive money from leasing the land.

After an initial 10- to 12-year period the town has the option to buy the PV array outright or extend the management agreement with Vineyard Power.

Mr. Andre said the landfill could host a PV array that could annually produce up to 75 percent of the town’s municipal load, which includes the police station, town hall, library, and other town buildings – but not the Chilmark School.

He estimated the array could save the town between $20,000 and $24,000 over the course of the lease. If the town chose to purchase the array after the initial lease period, the benefit to the town could be around $17,000 per year, he said.

Mr. Andre said a Chilmark resident, whom he did not name, has already agreed to fund the construction of the PV array at the landfill, which is estimated to cost just under $1 million.

Reaction to the preliminary plan was largely positive.

“I don’t see any downside to having a solar array at the landfill,” selectman Bill Rossi said. “I spoke with town counsel to compare the two companies [that might be interested in the deal], and his comment was you will have to really wait ten years to see how it pans out, but [he said] the Vineyard Power contract had a little more flexibility in it.”

The DOER ruled that Chilmark is not eligible because the town was not listed on a procurement report compiled by CVEC in 2011, Mr. Doty said.

“I guess that puts us back to square one,” Mr. Rossi said.

Selectmen also discussed a proposal to create an artificial reef off much of the town’s southern shores, more specifically near Squibnocket Beach where erosion continues to eat away large chunks of beach annually.

Chairman Jonathan Mayhew first introduced the idea last month.

Mr. Doty cited a meeting at Squibnocket Beach on December 27 attended by two civil engineers and coastal engineer Tara Martin from the Woods Hole Group, all of whom expressed reservations about building the artificial reef.

“The general opinion of the three engineers was that the permitting would be extremely difficult, the state does not favor these types of projects,” Mr. Doty said. “The three engineers thought the feasibility study would cost much more than the $50,000 to $100,000 we initially thought we needed.

“Tara [Martin] was very direct in her response she said it would be a massive project. I just don’t get the warm and fuzzy feeling that they felt it was possible. I walked away very discouraged,” selectman Bill Rossi said.

Edward “Spider” Andresen said he has talked with people in communities that have built artificial reef and found that they are expensive and difficult to build, but in the end worth it.

“What’s the backup plan, to do nothing?” asked building inspector Lenny Jason. “I don’t think nothing is an option. I think you should proceed and talk to someone who knows more about it.”

Selectmen made no decisions regarding the artificial reef, and opinions on the proposal remained sharply divided.