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EAC chairman sketches out plan to move ahead with solar projects

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SHIRLEY — A procedural block by National Grid that could derail the town’s plans to build two solar energy facilities can be bypassed by a relatively simple legal maneuver that town counsel has blessed and which is doable in a couple of ways, according to the Energy Advisory Committee.

EAC Chairman Bryan Dumont painted a telling picture of the problem and its proposed solution for the selectmen at their meeting Monday night.

The gist of it is that everything is ready to go once this roadblock is out of the way.

With a firm, EPG, contracted to build and operate the facilities on land owned by the town and the Water Dept., respectively, and generated output spoken for — 3 megawatts of solar power already sold to Devens and another half-megawatt slated for Shirley’s municipal buildings — National Grid threw a monkey wrench into the works.

The company refused to allow new wires to be built over its “franchise territory,” Dumont said. Strung on traditional poles, the wires would pass over the road, which is the legal terrain of the power company, he explained.

But there’s a way over the hurdle. The wires can go around or under it.

“You as the Board of Selectmen can own 25 feet of distribution line” that could then be buried under or otherwise traverse Walker Road, Dumont explained, and the town’s attorney opined that the law authorizes the move with a majority vote of the board.

“This is phase one and key to the success of the entire project,” Dumont continued. “If we can’t get the three megs to Devens,” the smaller array wouldn’t pay off, he said.

The goal is to grow the town’s solar generation capacity to reach 12 to 14.5 megawatts, making it the largest municipal provider of solar power on the East Coast, Dumont said.

The selectmen would only have to own the distribution line initially, he said. After that, EPG or Devens would buy it, maintain it and assume responsibility for problems.

As it stands, MassDevelopment is the best option to take own ownership of the underground line once it’s in place, Dumont said, while EPG would be responsible for maintaining the 10-foot sections of above-ground wire on each side of the road.

The dilemma arose because the two solar facilities will be on town-owned and water district land west of Walker Road, while the three megawatts destined for Devens must cross to road to get to the Devens solar facility on the other side of the road.

And there lies the rub. Because National Grid owns the Walker Road transmission lines on both sides, the road between is company territory and it won’t allow another entity to cross with another wire to get to the Devens site.

But if the town takes control of that 25-foot section of line, it can be taken as far as the pole, then snaked below for the remaining distance to “feed the facilities,” Dumont said.

With the current plan on the table, the solar plan is on track for financing, Dumont continued. Without it, the whole deal collapses. “That’s where we are.”

The selectmen voted unanimously for a motion to authorize the owner’s agent to advise EPG that they can enter into an agreement with the selectmen to construct a pole and wire to transmit power across the public way, in this case, most of it underground.

Mission accomplished, Dumont had good news. “We’re proud and happy to announce that Solarize Shirley has four signed contracts” to build individual solar arrays at as many homes and businesses in town, he said. In addition, there are 16 more proposals out and 60 “premiums sites” in town.

There’s still time to get on the solar bandwagon, but the deadline is coming up fast.

The state submission date is Sept. 30, but contracts must be in the works by Sept. 15. So those who are thinking about signing up for sun power should call by then.

The number to call is 978-425-2726. Or visit the website shirleysolar@yahoo.com