The Public Hearing regarding Wells Road Solar Project was called to order by First Selectman B. Scott Kuhnly at 7:05 p.m.
PRESENT: B. Scott Kuhnly, Glenn Ballard, Sally King, Mark Neumann, Edward Ohannessian, and John D. Ward, Town Manager
First Selectman Kuhnly read the posted notice of the Public Hearing and the committee member names: Jamison Scotto, Kevin Riggott, Mark Fiorentino, and Stuart Browning. Also in attendance were Anna Robbins, Board of Education (BOE) Business Manager, and Abby Kenyon, Director of Community Development.
Town Manager Ward gave some background information on how the solar project came about and where it stands today. In 2015, the Intra-Board Advisory Council (IBAC) comprised of members of the Boards of Selectmen, Education, and Finance wanted the town to explore solar power opportunities. After some investigation, it was determined that in order to receive reimbursement from the State Department of Education (SOE), expected to be 39 percent, the board had to site the project on school property. In 2017, the BOE applied to enter into the Renewable Energy Credit Auction with Eversource and the Virtual Net Metering (VNM) program, also with Eversource. Initially there was no room in the VNM program. However, in October 2018 they were notified that an opening had occurred in the program. The BOE then activated its application.
In the fall of 2018, the BOE brought this project to the Granby Capital Program Priorities Advisory Committee (CPPAC) seeking Capital Funding. It was approved in February 2019 and forwarded to the Board of Selectmen for its consideration.
On March 27, 2019, a public hearing was held at the Senior Center regarding the solar project. In April 2019, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted four to one to approve the project and send it to the voters in a referendum. A Public Hearing was held on May 28, 2019. On June 4, 2019, the voters approved this project by a vote of 731 to 436.
The project’s original proposal called for the installation of approximately 4,500 solar panels behind the Wells Road School which would result in the generation of 2.3M kWh of electricity. The project would generate revenue for the town through the generation of green energy credits, more specifically referred to as LRECs, and by its participation in the VNM program. The LRECs would be purchased for 15 years by Eversource with the revenue going to the town anticipated to be $84,000 per year. Through the VNM program the town would receive $0.135 per kWh generated with an annual cap of $399,000, which would be applied to the BOE’s electric bill. This credit was expected to be $256,000 per year. With construction costs of $3,300,000 and finance costs of $1,200,000, the project was expected to generate a net revenue of $4,300,000 over 25 years.
Preparing this project for the necessary regulatory approval, the firm of VHB was hired to investigate the impact, if any, of vernal pools and wetlands. As a result of their findings, the location of four vernal pools within direct proximity of the area earmarked for the solar array and also the impact it would have on the wetlands, the project would have to be reduced by two thirds to 1,500 panels. This would dramatically reduce the expected revenue from $4,300,000 over 25 years to $900,000 over 25 years.
The project is at a critical stage in that money will need to be spent on engineering designs, storm water systems, plus connection fees of $40,000. Additionally it faces more uncertainty, expenses and lower revenue than originally anticipated.
The BOS has the authority to approve the continuation of the project at the reduced size, or to cancel the project outright, if it so wishes. It may opt to take no action, which would have the effect of cancelling the project. If the board wishes to have voter approval to reduce the cost or to rescind the resolution, then it would need to pass a resolution, followed by a BOF resolution, then a Town Meeting and a Referendum.
Comments from the public included:
Anna Sogliuzzo, 15 Old Orchard Road, indicated she does not understand why the issue of the vernal pools was not investigated further before the project went to a referendum vote. She is concerned about the $80,000 that has already been spent. The reduced project should go to another vote.
Nelson Toussaint, 279 Granville Road, questioned what the cost would be to continue with the project, pay the legal fees and any additional costs. He indicated there is always some risk to a project but in the end, there is a good reward. The board needs to find a way to get it done and do it.
Shirley Domin, 31 Fern Follow Road, indicated she purchased her home because the location would allow her to enjoy nature all around her. With this project, she is afraid nature will be ruined and she will lose her privacy. She anticipates a decreased house value as well.
William Glueck, 18 Barkhamsted Road, was in favor of the original project and the revenue it would draw. With the new information presented, he is no longer in favor. The project needs to go to another vote.
John Bastiaanse, 120 Wells Road, stated he lives next to the school. There must be another use for the land. The project was a bad idea from the beginning.
Margaret Bastiaanse, 120 Wells Road, indicated she was disappointed in the whole process. The town should have presented more information and made the risks more clear.
Brennan Sheahan, 6 Tow Path Lane, noted the project should be cancelled and possibly look at other available properties.
Town Manager Ward indicated that before his time here, other solar sites were looked at years ago, including the Evonsion property, but that no favorable town sites were found. In addition, there is no guarantee these Virtual Net programs will be here in two years.
No other comments were made.
First Selectman Kuhnly closed the Public Hearing at 7:40 p.m.
John D. Ward, Town Manager