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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Green Power Series: Solar Farms in the Northeast

Part III – Bolstering Economic Investment for New Hampshire

Shown l to r: Sam Feigenbaum and Tom Holt of Kearsarge Energy, Nils Behn from Aegis Renewable Energy, and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm at the Manchester, NH Community solar site on Sept. 10, 2021 prior to the start of construction

(This is the third in a series of Green Energy Times (G.E.T.) articles that focus on community solar farms (CSFs) in the four states where G.E.T. is distributed (ME, NH, NY, VT). The first article, published in the August 2021 issue, was an overview of CSFs, while the second, in the December 2021 issue, covered several investor-owned commercial CSFs located in Maine and Vermont. This article covers commercial solar farms in New Hampshire and the article on page 14 covers New York. An article in April will focus on insights of energy professionals who are well-versed in issues that drive commercial solar farms in the Northeast.

Toby Martin

In January 2022, four years after its municipal solar project had begun developing preliminary plans, New Hampshire’s City of Manchester announced that the new array was online and fully operational.

According to a press release from mayor Joyce Craig’s office, it will generate 3.8 million kilowatt hours of zero-emission energy per year, offsetting the equivalent of more than 2,700 metric tons of CO2 emissions as well as associated toxic gases and harmful airborne particulates per year that would have been produced if it were a generating plant burning three million pounds of coal. This is the largest municipal project in New Hampshire.

In September 2021 U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm visited the site, and praised the city’s decision to locate the 8,000-panel ground-mounted system, which occupies the city’s former decommissioned 12-acre landfill and will be able to supply electricity for approximately 350 New Hampshire homes. It is estimated that Manchester will receive energy savings and tax revenue of more than $500,000 over 20 years at no cost to the city.

Manchester’s Deputy Public Works Director Tim Clougherty stressed the city’s dedication and commitment to clean, sustainable energy practices when he affirmed, “When coupled with energy efficiency initiatives, Energy Star compliance, and participating in the EPA Better Buildings Challenge, this project represents the latest example of the City’s forward-thinking regarding conservation.”

In addition to the Manchester Department of Public Works, there were several key partners in this project. Engineering, procurement and construction was managed by Aegis Renewable Energy. Kearsarge Energy was the finance and holding company. Kingsbury Companies, LLC was the civil site contractor.

Manchester, NH landfill solar array in Nov. 2021. The project consists of more than 8,000 solar panels. (Images: Aegis Renewable Energy

Nils Behn, CEO of Aegis Renewable Energy, explained the mission-driven enthusiasm the company has had for the project, “We love constructing solar projects on landfills. Now that the landfill has been closed, we can shift our use from what could be seen as an example of humanity’s harmful impact on the planet to a use that brings us all one step closer to living sustainably. We are proud to be a part of that absolutely necessary transition.”

Other clean energy investments made by Manchester of the past years include adding energy-efficient buses to the transit authority fleet which cut emissions from diesel buses by 96%. The City also converted city lights to LED eliminating the emissions of 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Toby Martin lives in Islesboro, ME, where he works locally and statewide to strengthen Maine’s clean energy sustainability. A founding member of the Islesboro Energy Team and the Islesboro Energy Committee, he also coordinates the Islesboro Energy Conference, and he contributes to the G.E.T. as a writer and member of its Maine distribution team.

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Cipriani Energy Group is an affiliate of the Sol Real Group which began in Italy, expanded into Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and now is in the United States. Cipriani’s American base of operations is in Colonie, New York.

Cipriani’s first three community solar farms (CSFs) in upstate New York are being built in Champlain, Cortlandville, and Johnstown/Mohawk, which when completed will produce enough electricity for approximately 1000 households (9.7 MW). The company reports a total of 15 community solar projects in the pipeline.

A three megawatt, 16-acre solar project in Cortlandville, NY on Tower Road can provide power to up to 300 homes. (Image: Cipriani Energy)

Per Laura Faust, Office Manager at Cipriani Energy, it takes about five acres of land to hold a MW’s worth of solar panels. The company is talking to local farmers about grazing sheep rather than mowing. They’re considering farming alpacas at some locations. They are also partnering with beekeepers to have beehives on the land which will be seeded with native wildflowers. They’ve even applied for a trademark for their Sunny Hunny.

Chris Stroud, Chief Operations Officer at Cipriani Energy explained some of the complexities of building a community solar project. If upgrades to the power lines or substations are required for the CSF, the developer pays those costs, not the utility company. Even with such costs, CSF subscribers can expect to save 10% on their electric bills.

New York’s Legislature exempted solar panels from local property taxes to encourage the industry, but this means that the local communities do not bring in as much tax revenue as they might otherwise with a CSF compared to other types of development. But New York state also allows local governments (county, town, school boards) to each negotiate PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) fees from the developer to compensate for this loss of tax revenue. The developer pays the PILOT to the local governments for up to 15 years. Since the PILOT fees are stable over the long term, Stroud said his company prefers it to potentially unpredictable taxes.

Stroud stated that solar development is a good neighbor. It does not require additional infrastructure like water or sewer, so it is not a drain on a town’s resources, nor is a CSF a source of air or water pollution. The working life of solar equipment is 25-35 years, at which point Cipriani Energy plans to recycle or re-use as much of the equipment as possible to reduce the environmental impact. If the electricity from the solar farm is no longer needed, the land can easily go back to what it was before.

Eden Renewables, based in Troy, New York, wants its solar development process to also enhance biodiversity, support local agriculture, and provide educational benefits to the communities where their eight solar farms will be built—the towns of Claverack, Glen, Schaghticoke and Schodack, all located in the Capital Region. The company began in 2013 as UK company Solstice Renewables and became Eden Renewables in 2017.

The 7.5MW Elmbrook community solar farm in Schodack, NY is large enough to power 1,225 homes. (Image: Eden Renewables)

Eden broke ground on its first CSF, the Elmbrook CSF in Schodack, NY in September 2021. Each of the eight projects will have an installed capacity of 7.5 MW, totaling 60 MW, which they estimate is enough to power around 9,800 homes. Subscribers can expect to save about 10% on their annual electricity costs.

The company values community engagement. According to Jonaliza Ceklic, Community Affairs Manager at Eden, each solar farm project will give $3,000 in educational support per year to schools of CSF host communities: $2,000 towards facilitating and delivering workshops, field trips and other Green S.T.E.A.M. activities (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics related to the environment and sustainability), and $1,000 toward scholarships. In 2021, the education support program awarded $17,000 in scholarships.

Eden Renewables’ Chief Development Officer, Giovanni Maruca said, “The Eden Education Program ensures that young people who will be most directly affected by the future impacts of climate change receive support, enabling them to be part of the solution. Through our Green STEAM Scholarship, Eden aims to increase the environmental workforce to meet the growing demand for green careers as the U.S. transitions to a clean energy economy.”

Plans are in place to make good use of the roughly 35 acres of land at each CSF site. The company will plant native wildflowers, grasses and hedges as ground cover under and around the solar panels. The company intends to have sheep graze around the panels.

“We are also looking to add community gardens at a few sites. We look to the host communities to see what their needs are and try to work those into our developments,” Ceklic said.

Maruca adds, “Eden’s community solar farms are a great example of how land can be used for multiple purposes…Soon there should be butterflies fluttering, birds singing and bees buzzing around newly planted photovoltaic panels, helping local people to save money on their energy bills.”

G.E.T. readers should note that in June, 2021, New York’s legislature passed a law allowing for cross utility crediting. That means that a customer in one utility coverage area can subscribe to a CSF in another utility territory. That opens up CSF benefits to customers in underserved areas.

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