Construction starts on solar farm behind Sunderland school 

  • A solar array project behind the Sunderland Elementary School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • A solar array project behind the Elementary School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

For the Gazette
Saturday, October 22, 2016

SUNDERLAND — The town’s electricity bill will soon drop when a solar farm behind the elementary school goes online.

Construction has started by developer Kearsarge Energy on a 378,000-kilowatt-hour array, on town-owned land off Route 116.

Boston-based solar energy consultant Beth Greenblatt wrote in an email this month to the town administrator that the solar project will provide the school with more than 70 percent of its electricity “behind meter,” or delivered directly from the array to the school without feeding through the grid. The town will purchase the energy for the school at a 7.5-percent discount.

The remaining 230,000 kilowatt-hours will be fed into the grid, “delivered to Eversource as net -energy metering” credit and will be purchased by the town at the same rate for other buildings.

“A significant percentage of the annual expected generation will offset actual electricity consumption at the Sunderland Elementary School,” Greenblatt wrote. “As a result, during times of the year, the Eversource invoice for actual electricity usage will be significantly lower due to the solar generation.”

Once the panels are complete — the work should be completed by the end of the year — the town will enter into an agreement to purchase about 40 percent of its electricity at the discount from the developer, for 20 years.

Project background

The town has been working to get a solar development behind the school for years, first signing a contract with Broadway Electrical. That project was derailed in 2013 after the company went out of business.

After reviving the project in 2015, and issuing a request for proposals, the town selected Kearsarge Energy to build the project.

Originally, Kearsarge Energy was going to build a second array at the Public Safety Complex.

Earlier this year, however, the second array was eliminated from the proposal entirely and the school array was reduced by 19 percent to make it financially viable for the developer.

With that, property tax on the land was reduced by town officials from $6,000 annually to $4,800. Also as a result, the town’s expected electricity savings over the 20-year term was halved from about $400,000 to roughly $200,000.