West Tisbury selectmen explore solar array options

At their regular meeting on March 20, West Tisbury selectmen tentatively agreed to explore other options for the development of a photovoltaic array at the town landfill off Old Stage Road.

Selectmen have already agreed, in principal, to a deal with Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) that would allow the cooperative to build and maintain a PV array on six acres at the landfill for 20 years.

The agreement would allow the town to purchase back electricity from the CVEC at a reduced rate, while the cooperative would benefit from state and federal energy credits and tax breaks from the state.

In December, selectmen voted 2-1 to sign the deal with CVEC, with selectman Richard Knabel dissenting and arguing that there was potentially a better deal for the town. Although selectmen voted to enter the deal, they still have not signed a contract.

Since that time the original lender for the project has withdrawn and CVEC has found a new lender in Deutsche Bank. Meanwhile the cooperative amended the language of the original deal offered to the town.

Selectmen last week met with town counsel Ronald Rappaport to discuss whether those changes were significant enough to walk away from the deal. Mr. Rappaport said the changes were largely minor.

But Mr. Rappaport said he was disappointed that CVEC made the changes without first consulting the town.

Mr. Rappaport said that because the contract has been amended, the deadline for signing the pact has been pushed back to April 30. “This gives the board more time to step back and see if you’re interested in alternatives,” he said.

Chairman Cynthia Mitchell said the change in deadline was a chance for the town to explore a locally built project. She cited the recently completed PV array in Aquinnah, developed by the town, as an example of what might work.

That project was built by South Mountain Company, and the town has the right to buy the array after 10 years, as opposed to the deal with CVEC, which gives the town the right to buy back the panels after 20 years.

Mr. Knabel noted that the up-Island School committee voted at a recent meeting to withdraw from the deal, and recommended the town talk to potential developers about alternative business models.

He also said he didn’t like that CVEC changed the terms of the deal without first consulting town officials. “I don’t ever like to be presented with a take it or leave it,” he said.