Solar array development should be part of our energy puzzle


As local opponents of fracked gas and oil — and of the continued use of fossil fuels in general — applaud the demise of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project and fret about the prospect of the state allowing energy firms to charge ratepayers up-front for their construction costs, we again note the advisability of diversifying the type of energy generation in the region.

The regional power grid overseen by ISO New England now relies far too much on one type of energy: natural gas. It accounts for nearly half of the energy going into the grid. Despite this, because it’s relatively inexpensive and plentiful right now, power suppliers and those in charge of energy policy are encouraging large-scale infrastructure projects to provide more gas to the region.

Meanwhile, efforts to move to more environmentally friendly sources of power are moving ahead slowly. But those efforts have been met with resistance from lawmakers and groups protective of the oil and gas industries’ inordinately large slice of the pie.

Ranger Solar, a Delaware company with offices in Maine, has proposed several large-scale solar arrays throughout northern New England, none larger than the 60- to 80-megawatt array planned in Fitzwilliam.

The Fitzwilliam project, on about 500 acres of private property, would generate enough electricity to power 18,000-20,000 homes, its proponents say. Now, the largest array in the state, in Peterborough, generates just under 1 megawatt; another 1-megawatt array is being pitched in Hinsdale.

New Hampshire’s net metering law limits how much power can be fed into the regional grid from arrays designed for personal or business use. The Fitzwilliam project, however, would be designed specifically to feed power into the system, so that limit wouldn’t apply.

Solar panels have a shelf life. Typically, they’re guaranteed for 25 years, although industry experts say they can be useful far past that point. Ranger Solar’s plan includes dismantling and disposing of the array when it’s no longer viable. That’s a necessary part of the project, and we expect the town’s selectmen and the state would demand firm language in any deal to ensure such conditions are met — perhaps even mandating funds be set aside early on for those costs.

Ranger Solar has proposed other projects in Maine and Vermont. The Portsmouth Herald reported a Maine farmer backed out of a proposal to host an array, citing the details of his leasing deal. In Vermont, the firm has proposed six 20-megawatt arrays, but that state is still haggling over rules for new energy projects that could derail the plans. Similar concerns could still arise with the Fitzwilliam project. The issue isn’t really about that specific deal. It’s about the future of energy in the state and region.

As technology advances, solar, wind and hydro power will become stronger solutions. But they can be a bigger part of the puzzle now. We’re hopeful more such projects will move forward. Despite current environmental concerns, fossil fuels have served the nation and the region well for many decades. But they can’t continue to be our main power source for much longer.

Alternatives must be embraced.

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