Selectmen: Solar-panel carports at RR station not a bright idea
Updated 4:46 pm, Thursday, December 3, 2015
The Board of Selectmen has pulled the plug on a proposal to install solar-panel carports at the westbound side parking lot of the downtown train station.
The Wednesday vote to reject the solar project, which was designed to generate electricity for nearby Tomlinson Middle School, was unanimous. The selectmen did, however, instruct Assistant Public Works Director Ed Boman to look into putting the panels on the Tomlinson’s Unquowa Road property, either as carports or on the school roof.
Saying parking is a major issue downtown, Selectman Chris Tymniak said the town may want to look into erecting a parking garage at the train station
“I think the town needs to seriously examine the opportunity to put a parking garage there,” Tymniak said.
In the past, town officials had proposed a parking deck for the train station lot, but the idea was met with opposition, particularly from the residents of Mosswood Condominums, a complex overlooking the station.
Mosswood residents also had opposed the proposal for solar-panel carports.
Boman said it would probably take about two to three weeks for Green Skies, the solar-energy contractor, to come back with a proposal for panels on the Tomlinson property.
The solar installations do not require any funding from the town. The company installs and maintains the panels for 20 years, and sells electricity to the town at a reduced rate, while receiving credits through a federal program. At the end of the 20 years, the town has the option to renew the lease, buy the panels, or require the company to remove them.
There are about 20 solar panel systems installed, or ready to be installed, on town properties and another 10 on the drawing board, according to Boman. The town saves about $1 million a year in electrical costs, according to First Selectman Michael Tetreau.
Selectman Laurie McArdle said while she supports renewable energy, she feels a 20-year commitment would be too long. She added that technology for solar energy is already changing.
“The town has a strong commitment to sustainable energy,” Tetreau said, but acknowledged that the train station parking lot is “a little bit different than just putting it on a rooftop.”
The town has installed solar-panel carports at the Postol Recreation Center’s parking lot on Mill Plain Road, which is the subject of a lawsuit by neighbors opposed to the project. That suit is still pending, according to Town Attorney Stanton Lesser.
The project did have its supporters, however, including Jim Motavalli, a local green energy columnist.
“It’s hard to see a downside to this,” he said, noting the system will save the town about $2 million over the 20 years. “It’s hard to see that what they’re looking at now is better.”
Motavalli said the real objection to the project is the view. “What has killed a lot projects around the country is that same type of objection,” he said.
Stonewall Road resident Mary Hogue said the town has been a leader in green energy. “We need to do a lot more,” she said, adding that roofs on town-owned buildings are often “not big enough to do as much as we need to.”
Steve Ellworthy, a former member of the town’s Clean Energy Task Force, said his support for such projects has always been contingent upon them being “properly placed.” There are also, he said, more efficient solar panels being developed. “I don’t think this is something we have to rush into.”