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DUXBURY

Town turns off wind, opts for solar energy

Officials conclude turbine project not cost-effective

By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / February 2, 2012
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At a time of accelerating production of both wind and solar energy, Duxbury officials have decided to buy solar energy produced elsewhere and take their own wind project off the table.

“It’s an opportunity to save money,’’ Jim Goldenberg, chairman of the town’s Alternative Energy Committee, said after town selectmen signed a 20-year agreement with a solar energy company that plans to build its facility in Acushnet.

The deal is expected to save the town up to $30,000 a year in energy costs and supply about 25 percent of the energy the town needs to run facilities such as schools, Town Hall, and other buildings, officials say. The producer, Pegasus Renewable Energy Partners LLC of Marstons Mills, has yet to begin construction of the solar farm. It’s expected to take about a year to begin producing power.

Duxbury is also moving ahead on a plan to lease its capped landfill to a private developer, American Capital Energy, a national company whose customers include the Army, to build a solar energy farm there. Town Meeting backed the project last fall.

The town’s move to buy solar energy was made in conjunction with the Alternative Energy Committee’s decision to put a hold on the possibility of building a wind turbine. The decision comes at a time when neighboring Kingston is touting the construction of five turbines within its borders. Kingston officials said their town’s wind and solar projects together would earn up to a $1 million a year in new revenue.

Until recently Duxbury was planning to build a wind turbine, too. Goldenberg’s committee had planned to seek funding from Town Meeting to continue its feasibility study of a wind turbine on town property next to its North Hill golf course.

But that plan came under attack by a group of residents who said they feared that living near a turbine would undermine their health, lower their property values, and alter the neighborhood’s residential character. They hired an attorney, produced a report attacking the financial basis of the project, and won a vote from selectmen urging the committee not to seek funds for the project.

Local wind power advocates cried foul. They said opponents were relying on a corporate-quality website and dubious information supplied by an anti-wind lobby with little connection to the town.

But Goldenberg said his group chose the solar option solely based on a comparison of the economics of the wind turbine project relative to the solar deals committee members have been working on. The bottom line, he said, is that a wind turbine on North Hill would produce electricity at $.155 per kilowatt hour versus $.10 per kilowatt hour to buy solar, a 35 percent cost differential.

“We were certainly enthusiastic about a wind turbine,’’ Goldenberg said. “It was a worthwhile thing to do and we spent a lot of time on it. What we came to understand is this agreement is a more cost-effective option.’’

Town Manager Richard MacDonald acknowledged the opposition to wind from the North Hill neighbors while saying he backed the committee’s recommendation to buy solar energy and put the wind turbine on hold.

“We want to pursue solar at this time,’’ MacDonald said. “There was a lot of controversy regarding wind turbines in town. I would like to focus more on solar. I think we’re prepared and capable of dealing with it.’’

He called the agreement a “win-win’’ for the town and the solar producer. “It enables Pegasus to get the financing. They need a stable customer.’’

Renewable-energy producers need long-term agreements with customers when they seek funding from investors to show they will be able to pay back their loan, energy brokers say. So while Duxbury was assuring itself of a below-market rate for a good piece of the town’s energy needs, Pegasus was locking in a long-term customer.

The state’s Green Communities Act of 2008 encourages the production of renewable energy by expanding on the concept of net metering, said broker Mark Moriarty of Duxbury Energy LLC, who helped arrange his town’s deal. Net metering is the difference between the energy the producer gives to the power grid and what it receives from the grid when its own production is down. When the producer is sending energy to the grid, “the dial spins backward,’’ Moriarty said.

The state’s law made producing renewable energy more profitable by requiring energy distributors such as NStar and National Grid to pay green energy producers the higher retail price they charge their customers, rather than the “wholesale’’ price they normally pay suppliers. The difference is substantial.

Some of that differential is passed on to big customers like the town of Duxbury, Moriarty said. The town’s deal with Pegasus saves the town 10 to 20 cents on the dollar, he said.

Solar energy producers are also taking advantage of the federal tax credit program that entitles producers of new renewable sources to write off 30 percent of their cost, or take the credit in an up-front grant.

Duxbury is not through exploring renewable energy savings, officials said. The town is looking into other solar energy purchase agreements similar to its deal with Pegasus.

Goldenberg said the town also has other green energy opportunities such as maximizing the solar potential of the rooftops in the construction of its new middle and high schools.

And while a wind generator is off the table for now, his committee also voted to oppose a measure imposing a height limit on wind turbines in town that would make turbines economically unfeasible. The committee wants to leave the door open for wind in the future, Goldenberg said.

Robert Knox can be contacted at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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