Tisbury solar project nears completion

Crews from Fischbach & Moore Electric Group and local contractors work in a sea of solar cells as they put the finishing touches on the Tisbury municipal solar project. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

There is light at the end of the tunnel for Tisbury’s on-again, off-again, 1.2 mega-watt municipal solar array project. Crews from Boston-based Fischbach & Moore Electric Group, along with local contractors, are putting the finishing touches on a 10 acre swath of approximately 5,500 photovoltaic cells at the capped landfill near the Park and Ride lot off State Road.

“Installation is very near to completion,” Liz Argo, special projects manager for CVEC told The Times Tuesday. “The next step is witness test which will take place the week of May 26.” Ms. Argo said the witness test will show the utility company, in this case NStar, that the system is fully operational. She said some bookkeeping details also have to be addressed with NStar, but she doesn’t anticipate any further delays.

“I think it’s safe to say that solar energy will be flowing to the town of Tisbury by the end of June,” Ms. Argo said.

The green energy project is expected to save the town $73,881 over the first year, and an estimated cumulative total of $2.3 million over 20 years, according to Ms. Argo. The Tisbury solar array is one of eight “round one” CVEC projects that have a total price tag $85 million. Ms. Argo said Tisbury was one of the smaller projects and cost “well under $10 million.”

On again, off again

The project’s tumultuous three year history began in earnest in August 2011 when former Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee and town selectmen finalized a power purchase agreement and solar project development venture with the CVEC. At the time, the solar installation was projected to save the town approximately $60,000 annually. Edgartown and West Tisbury also entered into agreements with CVEC.

Optimism faded over time as permitting delays, logistical snafus and complications in connecting with the NStar grid caused repeated setbacks. By October 2013, selectmen in all three towns were publicly expressing skepticism over whether the projects promised by CVEC would ever see the light of day, and the clock was ticking loudly—construction had to be done by June 30 for contractors to qualify for crucial funding from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Solar Carve-Out program. Additional concerns were expressed by public officials about CVEC’s viability when its funding from the Cape Light Compact (CLC) ended in 2015.

But hopes for solar power in Tisbury brightened considerably on November 19, 2013, when the project officially broke ground with in a public ceremony on an appropriately sunny day. Victory however, was short lived, because in January 2014, Broadway Electric, the company contracted to build the infrastructure in Vineyard Haven and 18 other towns on the Cape and Islands, went out of business.

With only six months to find a contractor capable of completing the massive job by June 30, prospects for solar power in Tisbury were dim at best.  While some CVEC projects were given a month’s reprieve to qualify for the Solar Carve Out program funds due to Broadway Electric going dark, Tisbury was not one of them.

But in March, G & S Solar Installers LLC of New York stepped in to finance the project and hired Fischbach & Moore Electric Group, LLC of Boston, and other local contractors and engineers to complete the construction.

Now, as of next month, energy generated by nuclear fusion 93 million miles away, will provide electricity to a small New England town that was founded in 1671.

“I think it’s fantastic and long overdue” Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal told the Times.”It took a lot longer than anyone thought it would. I give  [Tisbury town administrator] Jay Grande a lot of credit for seeing this through. Hopefully this is the just the beginning of these projects for Tisbury and for the Island.”