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Warren select board seeks input on solar array

As the Warren Select Board considers the option of installing a solar array behind Brooks Field at Warren Elementary School, it's encouraging residents to participate in further discussion about the energy source at its next meeting on Tuesday, December 10.

The solar array, which was proposed by Nils Behn's company, Aegis Renewable Energy, would occupy a strip of land of about 40 feet by 300 feet between the road on the far side of the field and the forest behind it. The array would include 330 solar panels and produce just over 100 kilowatts of net-metered electricity.

"I think we all believe this will be a real boon for the town if we can hit all of the markers that [Behn] says," select board chair Andy Cunningham said when presented with the plan for the array in late September.

According to Behn, once installed, the array would have an output of $0.21/kWh. Currently, Warren's school load is $0.13/kWh and Warren's municipal load is $0.13/kWh. If 89 percent of the array output went to the school, as Behn recommends, it would cover 100 percent of its load. The remaining output would go towards covering the municipal load.

The town also has the option of installing a larger solar array, Behn said, that would offset the entire school load and "almost exactly offset the entire municipal load, within one percentage point." The larger solar array would include installing a second 50kW array in the Eaton parcel, town-owned land that lies behind the proposed site of the 100kW array.

Warren public works director Barry Simpson proposed that the entire solar array be installed on land on the Eaton parcel, as the proposed site of the 100KW array (the strip of land between the road on the far side of Brooks Field and the forest behind) is currently the only available space for overflow parking at the elementary school, as the septic system runs under almost all of its fields.

Due to the geography of the land on the Eaton parcel, any array placed there would receive less sunlight and, therefore, have a lower output, "but it's going to be a trade-off" either way, Simpson said, and installing the arrays in Eaton parcel would "allow for more flexibility."

In addition to the size of the array, Behn and the select board have looked into several different financing options for it, including leasing and loaning, each of which comes with its own inherent pros and cons.

If the town were to finance the array with a one- to seven-year lease, it would not have to pay any upfront installation costs but would see 100 percent of the return. Behn estimates the lease option would provide about $1.5 million in lifetime savings not including tax benefits, which Behn does not think the town would be able to claim, as it would not technically own the array.

If the town were to finance the array with a 3 percent loan, "the economic benefits are even better," Behn said, explaining that Warren would see 100 percent of the return and a lifetime savings of $1.6 million. The town would have to pay an upfront installation cost of about $38,000, however, "so it's really just a question of whether the town has any desire to put money down," Behn said.

At the select board meeting on December 10, however, the board will discuss a different financing option they've found that is "budget neutral," Cunningham said, and "seems to be an excellent deal for the town."

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