Connecticut Solar Project to Generate Nearly $1M in Savings

September 24, 2018

It’s been just over a year since this 351.8 kW-DC system in Beacon Falls, CT, went live. The project is set to produce energy cost savings of nearly one million dollars over 25 years and covers three-fourths of the town’s energy usage.

Next to the wastewater treatment plant in the small town of Beacon Falls, Connecticut, lies a 2-acre plot of surplus land. Previously used to store soil and gravel for the town garage, the property is now the site of a solar brightfield capable of generating 351.8 kW-DC of electricity.

The site’s 1,050 panels produced 450 MWh in their first year of operation. The town elected to purchase the clean energy for municipal purposes, offsetting 76.7% of its yearly energy usage. Through reductions in energy costs, the solar installation will provide an estimated $928,000 in savings for the town of Beacon Falls over the life of the project, approximately 25 years.

Looking Back on Beacon Falls

Beacon Falls was approached by TerraNavigator’s strategic partner Jordan Energy in March of 2015. CEO Bill Jordan proposed to build a solar array on the property and sell the resulting energy back to the town at a fixed rate. Eversource Energy, the largest energy provider in New England, would purchase the zero emissions renewable energy credits (ZRECs), allowing Beacon Falls to claim the net metering credits on the town’s electric bills and lower their municipal energy costs as well as offset emissions.

Jordan Energy had previously won a ZREC bid for the neighboring city of Derby, CT, where the company developed a solar project on a municipal landfill. A Jordan Energy employee from Beacon Falls knew there was potential for a similar project in his hometown and pitched the new project. Jordan Energy took the proposal to Beacon Falls’s First Selectman, Chris Bielik, and subsequently to the town’s Board of Selectmen.

Beacon Falls agreed to a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with an option for a 5-year extension to secure their energy cost savings.

“We initiated the Beacon Falls project with the Town of Beacon Falls as an option to save a significant amount of money on power by winning them a ZREC award,” Jordan said in a phone interview. “We were successful in getting their Board of Selectmen to allow us to submit a bid for that incentive. And once we won the incentive, it was a matter of installing the project.”

ZRECs, or Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credits, are a type of renewable energy certificate unique to Connecticut that offer credits based on bid prices and emissions reductions. The program offers one credit per MWh produced, so this project yielded 450 credits in its first year.

TerraNavigator Takes Over

Jordan created Green Beacon, LLC, a special entity for the project, and in 2016 sought a buyer to develop the property. PVN Management, TerraNavigator’s parent company, took on the project and hired small Massachusetts-based builder JD Solar Solutions to install the panels. The project plan consisted of using ballasted solar on the property and was the builder’s largest undertaking to date.

Building and installation of the panels, as well as their maintenance, came at no cost to the town.

Using the state’s Virtual Net Metering program, Beacon Falls can take advantage of net metering credits to offset their energy costs at municipal buildings. The energy generated from the solar array goes into the grid, and five municipal buildings, including the neighboring wastewater treatment plant and town garage, are credited.

“Once we got the financial reward of the ZREC, we were able to lower the price of power to be very appealing to the town,” Jordan said. He explained that the town can choose the best route to direct their savings each year. “At the end of the day, the savings from the energy can be allocated [anywhere]…[it’s] really up to the budgeting process of the Town of Beacon Falls.” That means Beacon Falls can channel their savings toward budget deficiencies, infrastructure, new programs, education, or a host of other uses as they see fit.

Jordan quoted the town’s total projected savings at just under one million dollars. “It grows because the price of conventional power has historically gone up rapidly,” he explained.

At the end of the life of the project, the town can choose to retain the solar panels and continue their operation or opt to have them removed at no cost.

The panels are guaranteed for 25 years but can continue to produce power long after the PPA ends. “The reality is that the first panels that were invented 50 years ago still function,” said Jordan. “It’s just that they lose a little bit of efficiency every year.”

National Renewable Energy Laboratory research estimates PV panel efficiency loss at 0.5% per year, or about 10% after 20 years.

Small Town, Big Moves

This project plan offers a way for towns like Beacon Falls to utilize marginal property and participate in clean energy without putting forth the town’s own capital.

“They don’t have to invest, but they can benefit. That’s key,” said Chris Olson, Senior Development Advisor at TerraNavigator. “If they have the property, that is their value piece to the project,” he explained.

It’s often in the town’s best interest to consider a reuse project because it creates a beneficial use for underutilized land. “They can reap economic benefit on these properties that have been doing nothing for them up to this point,” said Olson.

Bill Jordan spoke on the same point, noting that the site had been “marginally used…for the dumping of organic waste from leaves and brush.” By relocating that operation, the land could be put to a more productive use generating renewable energy. “Through the dialogue process, it was determined that this was a better use of the land,” Jordan said.

Good Economics, Good for the Environment

Jordan emphasized the bipartisan nature of the project and noted that First Selectman Bielik showed optimism about the project from the start. The First Selectman was unable to accommodate an interview request.

The biggest challenge of the project, Jordan said, was “getting the broad spectrum of interested citizens of Beacon Falls [to understand] the real value of the project for the town, both economic and in terms of sustainable energy development.”

Because of the win-win nature of these types of projects, it’s not often that anyone opposes their town saving money, a new use for an idle site, or the switch to clean energy. “We very rarely come across a stakeholder who doesn’t want us to do what we’re proposing to do,” said Ruben Fontes, CEO of TerraNavigator.

A Sustainable Future

Today, the land buffering the Beacon Falls wastewater treatment plant is operating as planned: generating renewable energy to fuel over 75% of the town’s energy needs and to offset a portion of the emissions created by the town’s normal energy usage.

For at least the next 25 years, Beacon Falls will be generating “lower-cost energy that is clean and moves the town more toward a sustainable future,” said Olson.

You might call the project a beacon of the renewable energy future.

For a free consultation on how your brownfield or underutilized property could be put to beneficial reuse, please contact us through our website form or call Chris Olson, our Senior Development Advisor, at (630) 408-6034.