West Tisbury selectmen seek a legal option on solar project delay

West Tisbury town counsel Ronald Rappaport advised selectmen at their meeting Wednesday evening that there is no legal action to be taken now about the delay in the start of the town’s photovoltaic panel project at the old town landfill.

The town contracted with the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) in December 2012 to install the panels. CVEC hired Broadway Electric, a Boston-based electrical contractor to install the panels. In January, Broadway announced that it is going out of business, leaving the project in limbo until a new contractor is hired.

The project is now behind schedule. Selectman Richard Knabel said he does not think there is enough time to complete it before the June 30 deadline to qualify for state incentives that make the project economically viable.

Expressing concern over potential financial losses that could result from the delay, Mr. Knabel, who has long been critical of CVEC and its primary funding source, Cape Light Compact (CLC), a power aggregator, wanted to know if there might be a legal remedy for what he expects to be a contractual non-performance issue and a loss of future electrical savings.

Mr. Rappaport said he learned from counsel for CVEC that it was a matter of days not weeks before an agreement is reached with a new contractor.

“There is very little role for the town to play at this point,” Mr. Rappaport said. “The town has put up no money. CVEC will either have a new agreement and the project will go forward or they won’t and the deadline won’t be met.”

Several town residents expressed concern about CVEC’s lack of experience when the installation agreement was reached. CVEC had not completed any projects at that time. At a selectmen’s meeting on February 20, Michael Marcus, a resident of Seven Gates and member of the Up-Island School committee, questioned whether CVEC’s plan was the best choice. He suggested a better choice would be to follow the town of Aquinnah and contract with Island-based Vineyard Power, a community-owned energy cooperative that used local builders.

CVEC-managed projects on the Island have yet to be completed, according to a member of CVEC operations who is not authorized to speak publicly.

In related business, selectmen discussed a new aggregation agreement for CLC. Jennifer Rand, town administrator and town representative to CVEC, and Susan Hruby, the town’s representative to CLC, were both present. The aggregation agreement contains required information on the structure, operations, services, funding, and policies of CLC.

Mr. Knabel expressed his concern about CLC and CVEC’s liberal use of executive sessions. He suggested that the town’s representatives could further the public interest by pushing for more open meetings and more transparency in the operations of the two groups.

Mr. Knabel questioned the process used to allocate CLC funds without a full open hearing, particularly money used to fund CVEC. “It’s all about transparency, openness, accountability — that’s what’s important,” he said.

Ms. Rand said, “I have opposed the use of executive sessions at every meeting, but I am just one vote.” She and Ms. Hruby agreed to pursue Mr. Knabel’s concerns.

In other business, selectmen voted unanimously to approve an additional $4,000 as the town’s share to purchase a new Tri-Town ambulance service support vehicle. Selectmen had previously approved $26,000 for the purchase, bringing the total to $30,000. Aquinnah and Chilmark, the other two tri-town members, have already approved the additional sum. The West Tisbury funds will come from unspent money leftover from an ambulance purchase that cost less than expected.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell and Mr. Knabel voted to accept police officer Russell Ventura’s resignation, at the recommendation of police Chief Daniel Rossi. Mr. Ventura’s resignation follows his arraignment on OUI charges related to an automobile accident. Selectman Jeffrey “Skippper” Manter, a West Tisbury police sergeant, abstained.

There was a unanimous vote to appoint Doug Ruskin to fill the finance committee position left open after Jonathan Revere’s death on January 19.