Nearly a year to the day after the Town of Mashpee signed a contract with American Capital Energy to transform the closed landfill off Meetinghouse Road into a clean energy generating solar farm, the seven-acre parcel still sits empty, the project is months behind schedule, and the finger of blame is being pointed at NStar.
Under terms of the contract, ACE was engaged to install a 1.83-megawatt, 6,500 panel solar photovoltaic installation on top of the landfill. In addition, the town entered into a power purchase agreement with ACE for 20 years, having the option of purchasing the system outright at year 10 or year 15.
A year later, the solar-at-the-landfill project was expected to already be offsetting the municipal energy load. But that is not the case. Mashpee Assistant Town Manager Thomas J. Mayo late last year estimated that the landfill project would save the town $116,000 in the first year alone, and that the town could potentially save $11.6 million in energy costs over the anticipated 25-year life span of the system.
The project has passed two of the three major regulatory hurdles, including approval from the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and has received a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection landfill post-closure use permit.
The third major approval needed to move forward with the solar panel installation—an NStar interconnection permit for the project—remains incomplete, placing the project in a state of extended limbo. According to documents from ACE provided to the Enterprise by town officials, ACE initially submitted its interconnection application with the utility giant on January 23.
A chronology of interactions with NStar highlighted in the ACE memo shows that on March 28 the utility acknowledged that it failed to forward the application to its own engineering department. One month later, on April 28, NStar indicated that an impact study would be required for the project, but that it could not begin until a similar study was completed on a proposed solar project at the nearby Barnstable landfill.
Six months later, the study, which has since been assigned to an independent consultant by NStar, has yet to be completed. The impact study was commissioned to determine whether the Mashpee landfill project would have an impact on the NStar network, necessitating the need for a system upgrade for the utility.
“There are all sorts of hoops you have to jump through for a project like this, but the delay with NStar is outrageous,” said Mr. Mayo, who also noted that the town paid for the NStar impact study on August 7, significantly adding to his frustration.
NStar spokesman Michael P. Durand said that the impact study for the Mashpee landfill project was scheduled for completion in early November, but Hurricane Sandy and the northeaster that hit the region the next week have delayed the work.
NStar has been receiving “unprecedented” numbers of applications for renewable energy projects, both solar and wind, many requiring impact studies, since the Green Communities Act took effect in Massachusetts in 2008, he said.
Solar energy-generating capacity in the state has more than tripled to 143.1 megawatts over the past two years—enough to power at least 21,465 homes, according to a state Department of Energy Resources report recently cited in the Boston Globe.
“The engineering studies are quite complex, the safety of interconnections is of the highest priority, and there is a standard process used throughout the state,” Mr. Durand said. He also stressed that when the Mashpee application was received, and it was determined that an impact study would be required, it was crucial that the Barnstable study be completed first, as both projects would be connected to the same circuit.
When asked whether NStar planned on hiring additional engineers to deal with the influx of renewable energy interconnection applications, Mr. Durand said that he was not able to comment on staffing issues.
As of press time, a call made by the Enterprise to ACE for comment had not been returned.
Mashpee Town Manager Joyce M. Mason is also frustrated with the NStar delay, telling the Enterprise yesterday that she may soon request the assistance of the town’s state legislative delegation to help resolve the issue.
Mr. Mayo said the latest information he has received from NStar is that the impact study is estimated to be completed by the end of December. “This project is significantly behind schedule, and the fault lies with NStar,” he said.
The landfill venture is the second largest solar installation project pursued by the town, following installation of panels on the Mashpee High School, the Mashpee Senior Center, and Department of Public Works buildings.