City Warms to Solar Farm Proposal

Published April 25, 2012
By Cathy Torrisi

MERIDEN - At Tuesday night’s Finance Committee meeting, city councilors considered a proposal by Greenskies Renewable Energy of Middletown to place solar panels near the city landfill on Evansville Road.

In exchange for use of the land, Greenskies would install the solar farm on three acres of open space at no cost to the city. The company would then sell the electricity produced by the panels to the city at a 27 percent discount from the standard grid rate.

The city would save an estimated $72,696 a year, or about $1 million over the 20-year term of the proposed agreement, according to the presentation by Greenskies.

If electricity rates rise, the city saves more. If rates drop, the city saves less. But either way, the city will save money, City Manager Lawrence Kendzior pointed out.

The solar-produced electricity would power the Water Pollution Control facility near the landfill. The panels are expected to fill about 17 percent of the plant’s electricity needs. Greenskies would also sell some of the electricity to state utility companies to meet their renewable energy requirements.

“This arrangement is to both parties’ mutual advantage,” Kendzior said. “That’s the best kind of deal.”

At the end of its 20-year contract with Greenskies, the city would have three options:

1) Extend the contract for another five years.
2) Purchase the system.
3) Have Greenskies remove the panels at no charge and restore the land to its original state.

After listening to the presentation, Councilor Cathy Battista raised a concern about vandalism. The solar farm would be located on an isolated road, she pointed out.

Greenskies President Mike Silvestrini said his company would protect its investment in the panels by providing appropriate security measures such as installing a fence.

Councilor Walter Shammock then shared his reluctance about the time commitment.

“I’m not going to embrace a 20-year contract,” he insisted. “I would be more receptive to something for 10 years.”

Silvestrini explained that the 20-year terms are not negotiable. They are part of Greenskies’ financing agreement with its lender, he said.

“It’s impossible for the city to be upside-down on this,” he assured the group.

Kendzior agreed.

“There’s no risk here,” he said. “What you’re foreclosing is the possibility that sometime in that 20 years you can get a better deal. I don’t see that happening. It’s a pretty good deal,” he said.

In response to a question from Battista about Greenskies' experience with comparable projects, Silvestrini said the company is negotiating similar deals in Middletown, Vernon, Clinton and East Lyme, among other towns. In addition, it has a 55-store contract with Walmart and is Target Corporation's exclusive solar energy provider.

Councilor Brian Daniels asked whether the city had any other plans for use of the land. Kendzior said the city’s Public Works director told him there were no plans for the parcel. A few years ago, the city looked into mining the landfill for methane, but it was deemed unadvisable, he said.

Silvestrini said the city could still mine for methane, even with the solar panels in place. He also assured the councilors that the one-megawatt solar voltaic panels are made of nonreflective glass and would not create any noise or other environmental disturbance.

“I don’t see a downside to this,” Daniels said. “I support it.”

The committee voted to recommend the measure to the full council for consideration.