Derry Public Works Director Michael Fowler took the Town Council’s and Administrator Galen Stearns’ request to come up with revenue ideas seriously.
Though Fowler has been working on the concept of using Derry’s closed landfill for solar power for a couple of years, the idea reached maturity this year, just in time for a tough budget season. If all goes well, the town could see a new revenue source by next year, with land that otherwise would have gone to waste.
Fowler and Stearns are working on a proposal to lease space on the capped landfill to companies that would provide solar energy from panels housed on the landfill.
Fowler said the idea took shape at least a year ago, when he and the Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee (EEAC) brainstormed ways to promote sustainability in the town and also capture revenue.
“We researched it, and we found there were a number of companies willing to work with us,” Fowler said. He, the staff and the EEAC talked about what would be best for the town: “Did we want to purchase the equipment to do this, did the town want to produce energy?” They decided the simplest solution was to lease the land to a solar energy company that would sell the power and maintain its own equipment.
“We are looking at a 20-year lease,” Fowler said.
The town sent out Requests for Proposals in January 2015 and received six responses, he said, noting, “We spent February and March looking over the proposals.”
They settled on a proposal from a company wanting to put a 1-megawatt solar farm on 5 acres of the landfill, with 4,400 solar panels.
The lease payment would be $25,000 per year over 20 years, and would generate another $31,000 in taxes from the solar equipment, Fowler said. “It’s a drop in the bucket” to the revenues the town needs, but it’s also $25,000 and $31,000 Derry didn’t have before, he pointed out.
“It’s a win-win,” Fowler said.
He is not at liberty to name the firm that’s being considered until it’s approved by the Council, probably in June, Fowler said.
He ticked off the next steps: a staff report, the drafting of a legal agreement, review of financial terms, state permitting. The proposal must also be approved by the Planning Board, Fowler said.
In some sense it’s difficult to say how the winning bid stood out, because all the companies and their proposals were so different, Fowler said. “But we looked at their past history. One thing is, they have to be financially solvent,” he said.
The proposals ranged from smaller projects that would pay $10,000 in lease fees to large ones that would pay up to $55,000, he said, noting, “We picked the one we thought was most suited to Derry.”