Stonington sees savings from solar arrays at treatment plants

By Brooke Constance White
The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — The Water Pollution Control Authority expressed interest Tuesday night in taking steps to bring solar panels to two of the town’s sewage treatment plants.

Greenskies Renewable Energy made a presentation to the board, saying a partnership with the town could mean an annual savings of $43,536 to the department. Over a 20-year period, the town could save $870,000.

Although the board is seeking more details and wasn’t prepared to make an official decision, Authority Director Doug Nettleton said the consensus of the board was that solar arrays at the Pawcatuck and Borough sewage treatment plants would be a good for the department.

“I think we’re going to move forward because there are some time limitation as this is the last year to receive Low and Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Tax Credits,” he said. “If we want to take steps forward, we need those credits as they will help fund the project.”

After applying for the CT Solar incentive in June, Greenskies will then have roughly 18 months years to get permits, execute contracts with the town, and design and build the project.

The town will not have to pay any upfront costs for the project and in turn, Greenskies will sell discounted energy back to the authority at half the price of what the town is currently buying it for.

According to their calculations, a solar array at the Pawcatuck plant will provide 72 percent of all electricity on site in one year. The Borough site will provide 40 percent all electricity on site in one year.

Once the contract between the town and Greenskies nears its 20th year, the two could extend the contract for another five years at an agreed upon rate; they could conclude the contract and Greenskies would remove all equipment from the site; or the town could purchase the solar asset at a discounted rate.

Nettleton said both sites would be productive and that the board will likely pursue a solar array project at both plants even though the Borough site has a dog park on it.

“The board chair wasn’t there last night so I want to discuss it with him, but I’ve already been emailing back and forth with board members today to discuss the project in more detail,” he said. “We’ve got available land and it’s going to help us reduce costs. It’s a win-win.”

First Selectman Rob Simmons said he’s in favor of renewable energy and of creative ways to generate revenue for the town. For the last couple years, the waterfront treatment plant in the Borough has cost the town a significant amount of time and money as a local couple filed a lawsuit against the town for operating what they have called an “illegal” dog park on the site.

“We’ve been trying to fix this issue and regulate the property but it’s been a terrible waste of time and money,” Simmons said. “Right now the property is just a money pit and source of litigation. The WPCA has the opportunity to use the parcel to raise money to keep rates low for the rate payer. We can use the money we save on energy to upgrade our facilities. ”

At the moment, the electricity used to run the three aging treatment plants is one of the highest expenses for the department. Last year, the department announced that rates to residents using the sewage system would be going up 10 percent, as they hadn’t gone up in nine years.