Ameresco, Sudbury Talk Solar PV for Landfill
Ameresco meeting sets up landfill project for next phase: creating the requests for quotes.
"Every single community in Massachusetts that has a landfill wants a solar PV project," said Jim Walker, Director of Solar PV Grid-Tie Projects at Ameresco, an independent energy services company based in Framingham.
Walker spoke with members of the Sudbury Energy and Sustainability Green Ribbon Committee on Monday at the Department of Public Works about installing solar PV panels at Sudbury's landfill. The Committee has been laying the foundation for this project over the last several years, passing the bylaws last year and finding possible contractors for the work, including Ameresco.
Walker came to the meeting to introduce his company and field questions. Ameresco "designs, engineers, permits, finances, builds, owns and operates solar PV systems" and would sell its PV-generated power, built-on-customers' property, to municipalities.
Financial benefits to Sudbury in pursuing such a project are mainly long-term electricity cost savings. Stable prices on electricity, for the length of the contract, would be a particular plus of a deal with Amaresco; they would bear the risk of the market prices.
Walker gave the members references, suggestions and background about how to proceed and what to expect moving forward. The next step is to research requirements for design with respect to NSTAR and to the particular location of the landfill, flat and atop a hill at Route 20. In order to create a request for quote (rfq) that will yield useful and accurate quotes, members need to collect and organize this information.
Despite the popularity of this kind of project and a plausibly problematic "queue" within Massachusetts for net metering projects, Sudbury is well positioned for it.
Including the needs of the Sudbury schools, except for Lincoln-Sudbury's, Sudbury has enough of an electricity load to take on all or almost all produced by the PV panels. Walkers said this means that Sudbury "has a much higher chance of making this work." Since L-S is a regional school, incorporating the electricity earned or acquired from the project would complicate matters.
The project for Sudbury's landfill would be considered "stand-alone" rather than "behind-the-meter" and currently qualifies for net metering, a state policy and method used to bill or credit power created at renewable energy projects. Walker described current legislation regarding net metering; in Massachusetts, there is a cap on net-metering projects at 2 percent of utility's peak demand for municipalities, which is at 100,000 kilowatts. Projects must enter the queue to qualify within the cap. Most projects are in the 2-6 megawatt category, and the cap was recently increased in 2010 to its current level. The queue is not likely to pose a problem for Sudbury.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) 11-11, however, is an issue within Massachusetts that puts stand-alone projects at risk of losing their net metering qualification. There is the risk that the issue will be brought to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which currently suggests stand-alone PV may not qualify for net metering either, and is, of course, subject to strong utility company interests across the nation that oppose renewable energy projects. Ideally for the town, DPU 11-11 will be resolved in-state. Members agreed that they have to proceed with the project as planned.
Both Walker, as an individual, and Ameresco, the company, have decades of experience in energy source alternatives and in engineering. Throughout the meeting, Walker underlined the fact the company is not interested in "holding places" in the state's queue indefinitely nor bidding on projects that are unlikely to hit the ground. The company is a business as well as genuinely interested in creating high-quality energy projects involving solar power, Walker said.
"We can go right into construction," said Walker, referring to the company's capability of financing up to $5 billion per project.
The list of projects Ameresco has completed is long. Customers are often municipalities. Current or past projects have been built for MassPort Logan, Worcester State University, the Town of Natick, the City of Waltham, and the City of Newburyport, which recently saw the completion of a 502kW installation of PV panels.
Ameresco has received ratings of excellent from the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM), including projects for the Brockton Area Transit and Newburyport: 100/100 and 98/100 scores respectively.
Lowell City Hall is one of Ameresco's current customers using a stand-alone system. Ameresco uses a meter from national grid, the city is a host customer to Ameresco, Ameresco delivers power to the meter, and the city gets low-cost electricity, as well as distribution credits.
While the committee threw around some ideas for a project on the seven-year old roof of Lincoln-Sudbury, their current focus is for the landfill project.
"We're committed to this," said Chairman William Braun, "not necessarily to the exclusion of schools."
At the conclusion of the meeting it was agreed by all present that Braun should remain chairman.