Co-op Power community solar array OK to plug into grid

  • The sun shines through high-tension power lines. A recent interconnection agreement will allow Co-op Power to connect a future solar array to the electrical grid. Recorder Staff/David Rainville

  • In this July 28, 2015, photo, electrician Adam Hall install solar panels on a roof for Arizona Public Service company in Goodyear, Ariz. Traditional power companies are getting into small-scale solar energy and competing for space. The emerging competition comes as utilities and smaller solar installers fight over the future of the U.S. energy system. Matt York

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/5/2016 5:15:59 PM

GREENFIELD — The Co-op Power renewable energy cooperative awaiting startup of its Northeast Biodiesel plant at the Greenfield Industrial Park has received a long-delayed interconnection agreement for another project at the same site — a 595-kilowatt community-shared solar project.

The agreement with Eversource allows the project to be connected to the electrical grid.

“We have spent a lot so far on project development and need to raise more to move forward, but this critical piece allows that forward movement,” said Lynn Benander, president and chief executive officer of the 500-member cooperative, in a written press statement.

The co-op applied last May to the utility for the connection agreement, and an impact study on the interconnection that was completed on March 31 said there needs to be a quarter-million-dollar upgrade to the industrial park’s electrical circuit.

Co-op Power’s share of that upgrade will be $75,000, which Benander’s statement termed “a big, unexpected expense,” but still provides welcome news for the project to move forward.

“Community-shared solar is a win for the community because it allows residents who don’t own their roof, have unsuitable roofs, and those who can’t afford the up-front cost of buying their own solar system to join the solar economy,” she said. “All people, regardless of their economic standing, deserve the opportunity to use clean electricity that they generate, and to truly own the means of that generation, versus the many ‘community’ solar arrays that utilities have built which merely lease the output from to its subscribers. Co-op Power’s model of true ownership of the solar array by residents of the area is energy democracy at work.”

One-third of the power produced by the photovoltaic project would be used by the 1.75-million-gallon-a-year biodiesel plant, which is awaiting final approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to begin operation. The remaining 400 kilowatts of net-metering credits will be sold to co-op members.

The state Legislature is now weighing legislation that could revise its policy around the value of a net-metering credit.

Retail electricity in Western Massachusetts averages about 15 cents per kilowatt hour, with solar net-metering credits worth around 12 cents per kilowatt hour, but proposals to devalue net metering credits would make community solar projects like these less cost-effective, say pro-solar critics. A House version of the legislation, which has been hung up in a Joint Conference Committee for months, called for cutting net-metering values by 75 percent, making the Co-Op Power project not cost-effective, according to Benander.

Co-op Power has successfully completed a wetlands review, topographical study, geotechnical review, and a Greenfield Conservation Commission review of the project, she said, but to fully permit the project and secure a special permit from the town, it will need to invest further money.

Signing the interconnection agreement will put the project on a waiting list for the state’s renewable energy credit program, and may be able to qualify if projects already in the queue fall out.

“This program could offer $1.5 million in revenue to the project over a 10-year period, so it’s worth applying if we want to raise the funds required to confirm the interconnection agreement,” she added.

That could mean waiting, however, until the end of the current legislative session in July.

More information is available at: www.cooppower.coop

You can reach Richie Davis at
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269




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