Fire District Considers Solar Project

The Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Fire District is expressing an interest in basing a ground-mounted solar energy installation on fire district land.

The district’s board of water commissioners voted August 10 to request Carlton B. Crocker, the district’s procurement officer, to sign a letter of intent with the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, subject to the review of the district’s attorney, J. Douglas Murphy of Hyannis.

The letter would allow the fire district to participate in a round of ground-mounted solar projects sponsored by the electric cooperative.

The district’s water department would hope to generate enough revenue from the solar installation to wipe out the department’s electricity costs, which water superintendent Craig A. Crocker estimated at $230,000 to $240,000 a year.

The water commissioners are considering two potential sites: a 27-acre parcel off Old Falmouth Road and a 76-acre parcel off Popple Bottom Road, both in Marstons Mills.

The Old Falmouth Road parcel could generate up to 5.4 megawatts of power, while the Popple Bottom Road parcel could generate up to 15.2 megawatts of power.

Based on the August 10 discussion, the district likely would be looking to use only a section of the available acreage.

The water commissioners expressed concern over any widespread clearing of land.

They also want permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection before moving forward on the project, given that the tracts in question help protect the fire district’s watershed.

The rule of thumb used by electric cooperative officials is that five acres of ground-mounted solar panels equals a megawatt of electricity.

That megawatt, in turn, can generate an estimated $70,000 in annual revenue.Liz Argo, a technical consultant for the electric cooperative who gave a presentation on solar energy to the water commissioners, said vendors will bid to build and operate the solar panels under a contract lasting up to 20 years.

At present, towns in Massachusetts are limited to 10 megawatts of renewable energy to qualify for net metering, a financial credit for excess power fed into the electric grid.

Net metering is the source of potential revenue for the fire district’s solar installation.

The Town of Barnstable already is about halfway on the way to meeting its 10-megawatt cap, between the installation of solar panels and wind turbines at its water pollution control plant in Hyannis, and a proposed 4-megawatt solar array installation at the town’s capped landfill in Marstons Mills.

More sites are being proposed, including at the Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis and on land adjacent to Mosswood Cemetery in Cotuit.

If the 10-megawatt cap remains law, those proposed town installations may have to be built on a smaller scale than they otherwise could so that the town aggregate fits under the cap.

The fire district, however, is a political entity independent of the town. Whether the fire district’s project would be independent of the cap, or still would be subject to the cap as an installation inside the geographical bounds of the town of Barnstable, is not clear at this point, Ms. Argo said.

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