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Shirley switches developers on landfill solar project

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

SHIRLEY — The solar facility under construction at the old town landfill on Leominster Road has been taken over by Altus Power America. But the Energy Committee brokered a deal with Next Sun Energy and the selectmen signed a lease with that company.

According to EC Chairman Bryan Dumont, nothing unusual prompted the change. Such transfers are “standard practice” in the solar industry, he said, leases and all.

When the project transfer took place in March or April, Next Sun notified the town of its intent to assign the existing lease to Altus, Dumont explained, no need for a new one.

Based in Connecticut, Altus specializes in renewable energy installations on public buildings or municipal property, according to the company website.

The transfer triggered a review by the Conservation Commission, which conducted a site visit earlier this month and met with Altus representatives at its recent session.

Anticipating a July completion date for the project, Altus Construction Manager Alana Chain and Environmental Biologist Corey Kooken, of TRC Solutions asked the commissioners about additional paperwork they’d need to provide.

Conservation Agent Mike Fleming said there was no need to file a new Notice of Intent, but he and the commissioners agreed the next step would be to redo the Orders of Conditions, based on updated information.

A posted public hearing will be held, with notifications to abutters, same as last time.

Kooken and Chain agreed to highlight changes when they submitted the new data but they stated up front that there’s no wetlands impact and that the facility’s footprint is now “entirely outside” the 100-foot buffer zone that the state requires for rivers and streams.

“We relocated the access road,” Chain said.

Resident Tim Hatch pointed out that moving the access road also affected the town transfer station or Recycling Center. “It’s in a different place,” he said.

But Dumont later said only the gated entrance was moved, not the Recycling Center.

“We are working with Altus now…the company has agreed to ‘beautify’ the Recycling Center” with a new shed for the operator, he said.

The access road to the facility will be outside the landfill cap perimeter, a few feet away from the current cart path. It will be fenced off from the recycling area, Dumont said.

Hatch, citing on-line research, noted other anomalies as well, including two conditions placed on the landfill parcel last year that had expired, apparently without notifications filed. “I hope we’re not allowing this to spiral out of control,” he said. Another condition called for notifying DEP of any project transfer, he said. Chain promised to look into it.

Dumont’s email also addressed a couple more issues Hatch and others have raised.

For example, passage of ATM Warrant Article 3 last year gave selectmen a go-ahead to enter into solar development agreements for any parcel of town-owned land, he said.

Certain parcels were discussed at the time, he acknowledged, including the old landfill, which can’t be used for anything else. But the TM vote was not site specific, he said.

Asked why he and the selectmen were so proactive about going solar, with a growing number of commercial installations in town, Dumont said the primary reason is revenue.

For the old landfill solar facility, for example, annual lease and tax payments will be $22,362 and $41,792, respectively, with 1 percent increases each year over the 20-year contract period.

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