Solar array at Stonington treatment plants would help slash costs for WPCA

The Westerly Sun | Brooke Constance
April 27, 2017

STONINGTON — The Water Pollution Control Authority unanimously voted Tuesday night to move forward with a proposal to work with Greenskies Renewable Energy to bring numerous solar panels to the Pawcatuck and borough sewage treatment plants.

The first step in the process, applying for energy tax credits, is nonbinding, Director Doug Nettleton said. The application is a way of letting the state and Eversource know that this is on the radar. Once received, the application can be approved or denied. If approved, Nettleton said the authority will proceed to the next step.

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

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

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

At the moment, the board is still talking about putting in solar panels at both sites. The borough site, which is used as a dog park, has been highly controversial over the years and has recently been the subject of lawsuits from unhappy neighbors.

“The consensus with the board is that this is a project that wouldn’t cost us anything to do, as the cost is covered by Greenskies, so it’s a win-win for the sewer authority and for the rate-payers as well,” Nettleton said. “At this point, we just have to wait and see what happens with our energy tax credit application.”

During the authority’s meeting Tuesday night, several residents came out to express concern about the project, mostly because both treatment sites are used frequently by members of the public for recreation purposes, even though they are managed by the WPCA.

Although Nettleton said the residents were in favor of renewable energy, they expressed concerned about the loss of the space.

“We have to look at it from our standpoint as it’s WPCA managed land, not a park,” Nettleton said. “Obviously we’re looking out for the WPCA, but I’m sure issues will come up and there will be a time and opportunity for people to come forward and speak their concerns as we go through the process. We’d like to see this go forward, as we think it’s a really good project.”

If the project moves forward, Greenskies has said it will plant appropriate landscaping to buffer the site so that neighbors don’t have to look at the solar panels. Nettleton said he plans to work closely with the treatment plant’s neighbors to alleviate any concerns, should the project go forward.

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.

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 receive 40 percent of its electricity onsite 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 assets at a discounted rate.