Large Seacoast solar energy project breaks ground

Union Leader Correspondent

DURHAM — Ground broke this week on one of the most ambitious town-sponsored solar projects in the state.

On Tuesday, ReVision Energy started work on a solar panel array located on land that Durham owns at the Packers Falls gravel pit in Lee. With 2,100 panels, it is a municipal project that is second only to a 940-kilowatt array that was completed in Peterborough last year.

At 650 kilowatts, the array will be larger than the 525 kilowatt array on the parking garage roof at the Manchester-Boston Regional airport.

It is the largest project ReVision has built so far, said Stephen Hinchman, director of financing for the company, which has branches in Exeter, Concord and Maine.

Town Administrator Todd Selig said Wednesday the power will service all of the municipal buildings in Durham and will produce 10 percent more power than the town can use, so Oyster River Cooperative School District will benefit from the additional energy. Durham and the school district struck an agreement for usage of the excess power late last year, Selig said.

More than two years in the making, the project had to clear several hurdles, including a complicated application for a $500,000 grant from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, which was endorsed by the Public Utilities Commission and approved in a 3-2 vote by the Executive Council in June.

Durham already has solar panels on its ice rink, library and police station. The new town hall is LEED Silver certified.

“Durham is far ahead of most other communities, and is looked to as a model,” Selig said. “We receive calls from other New Hampshire towns, as well as from towns in Maine and Vermont on our efforts here.”

Durham is buying the solar power, not the solar array, in an arrangement similar to what has been worked out in Peterborough.

The $2 million power purchase agreement with ReVision and IGS Solar was reached in October of last year, and allows the companies to finance, build, own and operate the solar array.

Since the array will be owned by ReVision, it is subject to taxation by the town of Lee. At $60,000 a year, those taxes could have been a stumbling block for the project, Selig said.

After several months of intense discussion between Lee and Durham, Lee selectmen approved a proposal from Durham to make an annual payment of $6,257 to Lee, also in October. This included a 20-year plan in which Lee would receive a total of about $125,000, as well as $10,000 in building permit fees.

Durham also offered to be the primary responder to the site for fire and police calls.

Selig said one of the key terms of the agreement includes an initial kilowatt-hour starting rate for the first two years that is a half-cent lower than the prevailing Eversource electrical rate. After three years, the kilowatt-hour rate will increase 2.25 percent per year.

The power purchase agreement also allows Durham the option to purchase the array at a discounted price anytime after year six. The power purchase agreement has a 20-year term, after which the equipment will be decommissioned by IGS, but the town has the option of two five-year extensions.

Selig said as long as Eversource pricing remains true to historical increases, Durham is expected to save around $5,139 a year over the first six years.
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