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Groton Electric Investigating Building 7-Acre Solar Array

Today the Groton Electric Light Department operates with a 54 percent carbon free footprint including wind power, hydro power and some nuclear, according to GELD Manager Kevin Kelly, and that part of the GELD agenda is to become more carbon free. GELD held a public hearing for residents to talk about one area that they are closely looking at as a possibility for a solar farm.

Kelly said that state requirements on investor owned utilities causes them to be much more expensive for ratepayers than municipal-owned electric light departments, and these costs will increase as the state sets an escalating mandate for renewable energy to reach 20 percent by 2020.

Although municipal-owned electric companies are exempt from these requirements today, there is a concern on the part of small municipal owned electric companies that these mandates will come to their level and take away their local control. Should this happen, it would definitely increase the costs to the Groton ratepayers.

Even though the 54 percent carbon free is a significant move in the right direction, the Department of Energy does not view this as 'green' because GELD is part of larger operations such as Berkshire Wind and large hydro-electric providers. "If it's part of a big facility it is not counted," Kelly said.

GELD, however, wants to meet the spirit of the mandates for an increase in renewable energy by considering the addition of a carbon-free solar farm to diversify the GELD energy portfolio.

Specifically they are looking at land that was donated to the department by Groton developers Bob LaCombe and Dave Moulton in 2002. The flat land, located at the end of Nate Nutting Road near the power lines, is suitable for such a farm and GELD has filed an Environmental Notification Form under MEPA (Mass Environmental Policy Act) to begin to determine the possibility of such a proposal.

This is the first step to begin the analysis of the economic viability, and not only involves the state, but also the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board. One concern for GELD Manager Kelley is that the low cost of natural gas makes solar power particularly challenging, Kelly stressed that the location of the transmission line adjacent to the Nate Nutting Road parcel is a strategic location for a site for a future substation if electric usage continues to grow in Groton.

The initial plan is to use 6.9 acre of the 16-acre site for the solar arrays, which will provide one megawatt of production. The estimated $3M cost for the solar farm will result in six percent of peak power when the sun is shining.

Nate Nutting Road resident Ann Card said she did not want to see clear cutting of trees, and that the area was filled with wildlife. "This is a good piece of land that will be ruined by solar credits and politics," she said.

Kelley stressed that this was in initial discussion, adding that they were looking at the lowest cost sites first.

Smith Street resident John Llodra, said it is really a matter of environmental versus conventional power. He and his wife Grace live have installed solar panels on their home. He said that a diverse source of generation is important and that there are real benefits in the short and long term.

GELD Commissioner Kevin Lindemer noted that this is one possible option, but stressed that GELD Commissioners were open to other ideas for consideration including a land swap.

Chairman Rod Hersh stressed that GELD Commissioners were doing "due diligence to find the best option. We still have to look at permitting costs, development costs, and lastly SREC costs." SREC are the Solar Renewable Energy Credits which the state issues for those utilities that have solar power installations to help offset costs.

Groton Herald

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