Edgartown celebrates groundbreaking for CVEC solar arrays

The participants in a groundbreaking ceremony for Edgartown's municipal solar project at Katama Farm included, from left: Eli Florence, Florence Electric; Sam Wu and John Chang, Clean Focus Corp.; Eric McLean and Bill Fitzpatrick, American Capital Energy (ACE); John Checklick, Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) president; Juris Kalejs, ACE; Edgartown selectmen Margaret Serpa and Art Smadbeck; and Liz Argo, CVEC special projects coordinator. — Photo by Janet Hefler

Despite a blustery snowstorm Tuesday morning, Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) leaders and Edgartown officials were envisioning sunshine as they celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony for the town’s Katama Farm and Nunnepog solar array projects.

Town leaders expect the Edgartown projects, including a third one planned at the capped landfill, will generate enough solar electricity to power all municipal buildings and provide excess power to sell, resulting in significant savings in energy costs.

CVEC projects that Edgartown will save a total of $84,174 in year one, once the 1.2 megawatt Katama Farm and 1.4 megawatt Nunnepog projects are up and running, and more than $3.2 million by the end of 20 years, according to a press release.

The groundbreaking took place at the Katama Farm site. As part of its agreement to lease town farmland to the FARM Institute, Edgartown reserved the right to utilize a 20-acre parcel bordering Mattekesett Way and Aero Avenue, a dirt road that runs along the Katama airfield, for its own use. The FARM Institute currently uses it as pasture land.

The town agreed to site the solar array on six of the 20 acres, and give up its rights to use the other 14 acres, so that land can be used for crops, grazing, or any other agricultural use. The second site is between Edgewood Drive and Briarwood Drive near a town well, known as the Nunnepog well.

CVEC leaders took up shovels and broke ground with Edgartown selectmen Margaret Serpa and Art Smadbeck, town administrator Pam Dolby, and representatives from the project’s developer and builder American Capital Energy (ACE), the engineering firm Weston and Sampson, and the electrical contractor Florence Electric. Financial representatives from Global Structure Finance Advisors (GSFA) and Clean Focus Corporation (CFC) also attended.

In remarks in a ceremony held indoors after the groundbreaking, CVEC president John Checklick noted that since the cooperative was created in 2007 it has grown from three founding members, Cape Light Compact (CLC), Barnstable County, and the town of Barnstable, to its current 20 members. Those include the Island towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury and other municipalities on the Cape.

Worth the wait

CVEC launched its municipal solar energy initiative in 2011. The cooperative awarded its first round of solar projects, which includes ones in Edgartown and Tisbury, to American Capital Energy (ACE) in April that year. CVEC experienced several delays with its round one projects when it hit some roadblocks in receiving interconnection agreements with NSTAR and in seeking state approval for net metering. Nonetheless, the cooperative persevered, Mr. Checklick said.

He thanked CLC for its continued support, through grants, which he said would result in significant benefits the solar projects will bring to ratepayers from savings in energy supply costs.

“The total savings to municipalities and the districts from round one and two is estimated to be about $900,000 for round one, and $1 million for round two, in the first full year of operation,” Mr. Checklick said. “So the benefits and savings are significant to those participating.”

The energy produced from eight projects will represent 26 percent of the Cape and Vineyard municipal load and 1.1 percent of the total energy load for all customers on the Cape and Vineyard, according to CVEC. The cooperative calculates that the greenhouse gas reduction from the projects is equivalent to removing 2,639 passenger vehicles from the road.

Mr. Checklick also congratulated and thanked the member towns, who he said worked very hard to make CVEC’s mission possible, through their energy committees and appointed CVEC directors, and with the support of town boards of selectmen and town administrators and their staffs.

In addition to Edgartown officials, Mr. Checklick recognized Island members of CVEC’s board of directors, including Peter Cabana of Tisbury, who represents Dukes County, Bill Straw of Tisbury, Richard Toole of Oak Bluffs, Jennifer Rand of West Tisbury, and Pam Dolby of Edgartown.

Ms. Dolby and Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck credited Kitt Johnson, Edgartown’s former CVEC board member and chairman of the town’s energy advisory committee, for his hard work in leading the town’s solar project efforts. They also thanked town conservation agent Jane Varkonda, who was in attendance, for her invaluable help.

ACE representatives said they hope to commission the solar array projects by March or April 2014, in advance of their deadline to complete them by June 30, 2014.

The players

CVEC is a separate organization from CLC. Its objectives include developing and/or owning renewable electric generation facilities and procuring or selling long-term electric supply or other energy-related goods and services at competitive prices to member communities and consumers within them.

The CVEC photovoltaic (PV) initiatives offer unique project structures that take advantage of federal and state incentives for solar development and allow bundling leverage as CVEC procures and develops projects on behalf of its municipal members, according to a press release.

ACE specializes in large complex roof- and ground-mounted systems, and designs, finances, installs, and implements solar systems for commercial, municipal, and utility clients, according to a press release. Founded in 2005, the company has installed more than 50 large-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects in nine states.

GSFA helped ACE arrange the deal with CVEC and the project’s financing. CFC is providing construction and permanent financing and will own and operate CVEC’s eight round one projects. The company develops, finances, owns, and operates large commercial, small utility, and municipal solar power installations across the U.S.