Massive Solar Array Pitched In Fitzwilliam

By Meghan Foley KEENE SENTINEL May 23, 2016

FITZWILLIAM — A solar array approximately 60- to 80-times more powerful than any currently in the state may be coming to hundreds of acres in Fitzwilliam.

Ranger Solar of Yarmouth, Maine, is proposing to install a 60- to 80-megawatt solar array in town that would far surpass power levels generated by existing solar power systems in New Hampshire. The company is looking to put the ground-mounted panels on land southeast of the intersection of Routes 12 and 119 between Scott Brook and the high-tension electrical lines.

Representatives are also looking at a parcel to the west of Route 12 near No. 4 Road, according to a presentation the company gave at a meeting of the Fitzwilliam selectmen last month. All the land being considered is privately owned, they said, and they need 500 acres for the system.

The lifespan of the solar or photovoltaic array would be at least 25 years, with a plan to decommission it, including its removal and restoration of the area, Aaron B. Svedlow, director of permitting for Ranger Solar, told selectmen.

Selectmen asked several questions about the project following the April 25 presentation, but the meeting minutes didn’t say whether they were for or against it.

Efforts to reach Selectmen Chairman Susan S. Silverman over the weekend were unsuccessful.

The project will be capable of powering between 18,000 and 24,000 average New England homes, but this depends on the final project size, Svedlow said in a phone interview last week.

The largest solar array in the Monadnock Region — and the state — is a 944-kilowatt installation in Peterborough covering about 5 acres. Approximately 70 percent of the electricity generated by the system powers the town’s wastewater treatment plant. The excess power is sent to the electric grid for utility customers who have signed onto the solar array to use, and the utility pays the town for it.

One megawatt equals 1,000 kilowatts.

An approximately 1-megawatt system is being proposed in Hinsdale by NHSolarGarden.com of Stratham, and an initial 66-kilowatt photovoltaic array that went online last year behind the Airport Business Park in North Swanzey continues to grow.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of a long process,” Svedlow said.
The project Ranger officials are proposing in Fitzwilliam would be a large scale, utility-sized solar array that would be ground-mounted and connected into the region’s electric grid, he said.

Christopher Stewart, who assists Ranger Solar with stakeholder engagement in New Hampshire, said there about four or five different land owners whose properties would house the solar array. The company would either lease or buy each property depending on what the property owner wants, he said.
“The landowners are already on board, which triggered the event of why we went to the town,” he said.

The setup of the Fitzwilliam project would be different from many other photovoltaic systems in the state, including the ones in Hinsdale, Peterborough and Swanzey. Those systems are designed to generate electricity for a home, business or municipality. What is not used by those entities is sold to a utility’s costumers through the power grid, making it subject to New Hampshire’s group net metering law.

The law allows renewable energy facilities to share surplus electricity they produce with other people, and get paid for it. The catch is the people using the electricity have to be customers of the same utility company as the facility’s owner.

Regardless, the law, combined with state and federal financial incentives, improvements in technology and greater demand, has made solar power in the Granite State more cost-effective and accessible, industry representatives have said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed legislation raising the amount of electricity produced by group net metering in New Hampshire from 50 megawatts to 100 megawatts.

The Fitzwilliam solar array wouldn’t be subject to the group net metering law because all the electricity it produces would be going into the power grid before being used by customers, as would electricity being produced by a power plant, Svedlow said.

“What we’re seeing in New England is some of the traditional power generation come off line,” he said. “Nuclear power plants are being retired, and our region is now heavily relying on natural gas, which has a lot of price fluctuations.”

Adding utility-scale solar power to the region’s energy mix would help stabilize prices, he said.

While the Fitzwilliam project would be Ranger’s first one in New Hampshire, it has existing large-scale photovoltaic arrays in Maine and Vermont, he said.
Fitzwilliam is a good site for the project because it’s close to electrical infrastructure including transmission lines and a substation, he said. Company officials aren’t looking to add to that infrastructure, but interconnect the solar array with it, he said.

The land being looked at has been used and managed for timber and off-road vehicles, he said. It’s not near any public roads or residences, he said.
“It’s a good fit for us to develop because it has already been impacted,” he said of the land.

In addition, the weather pattern is ideal for solar, as Fitzwilliam is within a doughnut of sorts that covers areas including York County, Maine, southwestern New Hampshire and Boston, where the generation of power from solar is much greater than other areas in New England, he said.

In part, that is due to the geography, he said.

Ranger Solar is in discussions with the utility companies about selling the electricity generated by the solar array to them, he said.

The company also hopes to sell renewable energy credits from the project.
“We currently don’t have a buyer, but we’re confident we will find one. With renewable energy generation and renewable energy projects, it’s kind of the chicken and the egg,” Svedlow said. “You need the project to get the power contract, and you need the power contract to get the project.”

Meanwhile, company representatives are scheduled to meet with the Fitzwilliam Planning Board on June 7, and continue to meet with local environmental groups, Svedlow said.

Ranger representatives hope to start working with Fitzwilliam officials soon on an economic development package for the community, he said. That package would include how much the town would receive for hosting the photovoltaic array.

Simultaneously, Ranger Solar officials expect to begin the project’s approval process with the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, Svedlow said. The state agency would need to approve the location, scope and design of the solar array for the project to move forward.

“We would expect to file with the SEC probably by the end of this calendar year,” Svedlow said. “Ideally, we’d like to go into construction in early 2018.”

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