Chester town solar farm approved on a 3-1 vote

By Shawn Cunningham

At its Dec. 18 meeting, the Chester Select Board approved the contract for a solar power farm to be built on town land at Route 103 and Trebo Road. Green Lantern Capital proposed the 5 acre, 500 kilowatt installation back in April of this year, making it the fourth company in the running to build the project.

In the intervening months, Green Lantern took the lead in setting forth a contract and, for some time now, the Chester Select Board has been discussing several versions of the deal at its meetings. Issues of whether the company should pay property taxes or a payment in lieu of taxes — PILOTfor short — and whether  it’s conceivable that the price of power purchased by the town would drop below a “floor” price. The power generated at the site will be sold at a premium price that is subsidized by a state law that could expire in 10 years. After that, if the price of power drops dramatically, the town could pay more than the market rate for the power it uses to run its buildings.

In addition, the assessment for property taxes could drop as the installation ages and especially if the price of electricity drops. The smaller PILOT could be seen as an abatement of taxes that would need to go before the voters, delaying the project.

In the end, the board asked Green Lantern for a contract with property taxes and the floor, but guaranteeing that any environmental damage to the sensitive Jeffery Well site would be cleaned up at the company’s cost.

Under the contract, Green Lantern would pay $6,500 in taxes and $6,000 in rent and the town would see between $5,000 to $5,500 in savings on its electric bill. Select Board member Derek Suursoo pointed out that only one number (the rent) is contractual, since Green Lantern could appeal the tax assessment and the power savings isn’t guaranteed for the life of the contract.

Member Bill Lindsay moved that the board approve the contract. “I want money too,” Suursoo responded, “but I’ll only go so far to get it and I won’t go this far.” After more discussion, the board voted 3 – 1 to approve. Tom Bock, Arne Jonynas and Bill Lindsay voted for the contract. Derek Suursoo voted against. Board chairman John DiBenedetti did not vote, saying that he would have voted in the case of a tie and noting that in that case he would have voted against the project.

On a 5-0 vote, town manager David Pisha was instructed to send the contract to the town attorney for a review and not to sign it if there were any “red flags” in it. It was noted that to date, the town has spent $3,400 on legal fees on this project.

On Friday, Luke Schullenberger of Green Lantern said the process of getting a “certificate of public good” through the Public Service Board takes about four months and could begin as soon as the contract is signed. “The buildout could start in the late spring,” Schullenberger said, “and it would take about 90 days.”

According to Schullenberger the Chester project is similar in size to projects that Green Lantern is doing in Brattleboro, Putney and Waterbury.

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