HARVARD -- The Energy Advisory Committee formed a subgroup to look into net metering. Having determined it could be both workable and worthwhile, Jim Elkind and other members of the EAC subcommittee came to selectmen with a recommendation.
The next step would be to launch the bidding process, prepare and send out a request for proposals aimed at finding a firm to broker a net metering contract for the town, Elkind said.
Explaining how it works, subcommittee members said net-metering credits came about as an offshoot of a state law that requires utilities to track energy production at facilities such as solar arrays. If the amount of energy produced is more than can be used on site, the utility must "buy" back residual power by crediting the producer's utility bill.
Nobody was talking about an in-town solar facility producing extra energy that National Grid can buy back for credit. Instead, the discussion was about a provision in the law that allows municipalities to buy into credits accrued by another solar facility.
"These are large-scale commercial solar arrays," most of which don't exist yet, Elkind said. "Typically, these deals are brokered before the facility is built."
But what's the incentive to act now?
Today's "golden window" is likely to close once the facilities are up and running. Right now, the set-up is attractive to developers, they said.
That's what the RFP is for, to find a broker to scout out prospects and negotiate a deal.
As subcommittee members explained, it amounts to a discount, with the town buying into credits for 80 cents on each dollar of energy the facility sells back to the utility company. Then, the town presents its credits to its own distributor, National Grid, which figures out the balance to be deducted from the town's utility bill.
"We think the town can save money in the competitive market that exists right now," Elkind said, describing a long-range commitment of 20 years or so. "It's fair to say it's still a developing market," he said, noting that the EAC had already received three "unsolicited offers" from companies interesting in providing this service. As more proof of the trend, the city of Andover received seven responses to a similar RFP, he said.
Asked how long the process would take, Elkind said if selectmen gave their blessing, the group would work on the RFP with Town Administrator Tim Bragan and Finance Director Lorraine Leonard to ensure the town's requirements are met. Additionally, they'd like Town Counsel Mark Lanza to take a legal look at it.
Based on procurement rules for energy, Bragan said the move would not require Town Meeting approval.
All things considered, the process could take about two or three months, EAC subcommittee members said.
Selectman Tim Clark asked if the group was proposing that the town buy part of its demand from a certain company that it would then be tied to, raising the question of performance.
Yes, there could be performance issues, he was told, say the company did not manage the facility well and/or or it didn't produce excess energy. But that could be addressed in the RFP.
"Of course, the town could build its own solar facility," Elkind ventured.
While nobody jumped at that idea, Selectman Ron Ricci foresaw "minimal risks" in the proposal the board was currently being asked to consider, he said.
Ricci asked if there were restrictions on where the facilities were located.
The answer was yes. The producers must be in Massachusetts and within the town's "load zone," narrowing the prospects to three planned solar facilities across the state.
The selectmen voted unanimously to adopt the EAC's recommendation for the subgroup to prepare an RFP for the board's approval, working with Bragan and Leonard.