By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY -- Representatives from Maryland-based EPG Solar and members of the town's Energy Committee and Board of Water Commissioners Wednesday made progress toward agreeing upon multiple large-scale solar array projects.
The two groups have been in discussions about various projects since last December, and Energy Committee Chair Brian Dumont said EPG was asked to bring with them Wednesday a definitive location for their 3-megawatt project on Devens that would benefit Shirley, a finalized contract given to them by the town's owner's agent earlier this summer and a rough draft of a lease agreement.
Robert Babcock with EPG Solar said one of the biggest difficulties in preparing the Devens project is figuring out the best way to get the power across the water district's land to Devens.
To do that, a utility pole is likely necessary on the water district land, and the line would come down the pole, go underground across the road and then up another pole on the opposite side of the road.
The town would have to accept control of the line when it is underneath the ground because EPG cannot own the distribution line.
"The issue of the line crossing is a fatal flaw if we can't resolve this," Babcock said. "Devens has already done a lot of work with this. They've done an impact study, and they've started to flag where poles will go up. There's nothing holding us up on the Devens side."
A preliminary lease agreement and power purchase agreement were presented during Wednesday's meeting, but the Energy Committee suggested having the assessors meet with everyone involved to see how much the properties in question would generate in tax revenue, and compare that to the numbers laid out in the power purchase agreement.
Solar projects are usually assessed as personal property, but a developer can negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes agreement instead.
"All assessors could have different points of view. What the assessment is could make a huge difference in this project," Babcock said.
Dumont said he was very pleased with the way things worked out.
"I think the meeting was more productive than any of the last meetings we had. I think EPG knows exactly how the representatives of Shirley are feeling and we know how they are feeling," he said, while noting the next two months are going to be critical in this process.
"We want firm proposals on the table that are to the advantage of the town of Shirley. I really don't care what their problems are. They want our property to develop it. There needs to be a benefit to the town," he said. "The property (water district) has sat vacant for 100 years and it will sit vacant for another 100 years if this does not benefit Shirley."