The Board of Selectmen approved a deal last week that could save the town $6 million on its energy bills over the next 20 years.
By a vote of 5-0, selectmen authorized a power-purchase agreement with a private company that plans on building a solar array in Western Massachusetts.
Once the company starts generating electricity, the town will be able to buy power from National Grid at a reduced rate, estimated to save about $300,000 a year on the electricity bill for school buildings.
However, there is a hitch: The state currently has a cap on what are known as “net-metering credits,” which limits the amount of power that utilities must buy from solar companies. The cap for municipal contracts was reached earlier this year.
What that means is that while selectmen approved and signed the deal last week, the company building the solar array — Syncarpha Capital of New York — won’t be able to sell any of its cheap power to National Grid until the cap is raised or lifted completely.
And that means Andover won’t be able to get any savings until the net-metering cap is raised.
Solar enthusiasts are hopeful that the state Legislature will vote to raise the cap by the end of this month.
Anil Navkal, who is on the town’s Green Advisory Board, has pressed state Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, to convince her colleagues to lift or raise the cap.
L’Italien said in an email to Navkal that while she is “in favor of lifting the current cap on solar net metering and am enthusiastic about Andover’s progress on this issue,” the governor may be opposed to it.
“The governor’s Secretary of Energy and the Environment Matthew Beaton addressed this issue in May during a Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce Energy Conference at which time he indicated that he has reservations about lifting the cap,” she said. “Therefore, the Board of Selectman may want to send a letter to both the governor and the energy secretary indicating their support.”
Navkal said he would approach selectmen at their next meeting seeking support for a petition to the governor and Legislature to lift the net-metering credits to allow the Andover project to move forward.
Janet Nicosia, manager of energy and utilities for the town, said the approval of the 20-year agreement “will facilitate the construction of a large solar energy facility on top of a capped landfill in Western Massachusetts. When constructed, this agreement will allow Andover to buy more than 30 percent of its electricity from solar which would save the town more than $6 million on its energy bills over the next 20 years through a process called net metering.
“The project will create jobs in Massachusetts and add more clean, reliable and climate-neutral solar power to the local electricity grid,” she said. “This agreement and many others are currently held up by the legislative cap on net metering in Massachusetts.
“There are currently a number of bills under consideration by the Massachusetts state Legislature to raise the net-metering cap. Once the cap is lifted, towns like Andover will be able to join the 100-plus cities and towns that have already realized the savings resulting from this virtual ‘local aid.’”