By Ray Carbone
WARNER – About 30 residents gathered at the MainStreet BookEnds store Thursday night (Feb. 23) to hear about two ideas that will be considered by voters at the annual town meeting next month. One is a proposal to build a solar panel array to mitigate the town government’s electrical bill. The other would move forward plans to build a new fire department station on Main Street.
Selectman Clyde Carson, speaking for his board and its energy committee, said that the solar array facility would include 380 panels and be built on an acre of land adjacent to the transfer station off Main Street. (At last year’s town meeting, a similar proposal narrowly missed the two-thirds majority needed for approval.)
Carson noted that the town’s Village Water District, which provides water and sewer service to approximately 200 customers, installed a similarly sized solar facility last year and is already reaping the benefits.
“It powers the wastewater treatment plant and the wells there,” he said of the project. “They use a lot of electricity.”
Now there’s even more reason to seriously consider the solar array option, Carson explained. Under the state’s original 2012 “net metering law,” solar power users who generate more energy than they need can transfer that excess back into the regional power grid, which provides electricity to communities throughout New England. The user gets a check back from the company that can be used as a credit against his electrical bill.
“But in 2013, what made this really attractive is that the state instituted ‘group net metering,’” the selectman said. “That means I can put in a lot of solar panels in one location and I can feed anything excess back into the electrical grid, and use (the value of that power) to pay for other places.
“And there are number of town buildings around the town,” he noted. That means the solar array facility can provide power for the transfer station, and pay for electric power used at the Pillsbury Free Library, the highway department’s facility and the police station, Carson said. (The proposed facility has been sized to provide – or finance – electrical energy for all the town buildings.)
The energy committee worked hard to keep the cost of the new solar project “tax neutral,” Carson added. “It will not increase the tax rate. In fact, we’ll be getting more revenue.”
The project’s $338,530 construction costs will be funded using a low 2-percent interest, 12-year loan from the state’s Community Development Finance Authority, and a $65,000 grant. Projections are that the facility will provide power for the transfer station and about $60,000 in additional revenue the first year it’s operating. (The town’s total annual electric bill is approximately $30,000, Carson said.)
Earlier in the meeting, Anthony Mento, a project manager with Sherr, McCrystal, Palson Architecture, Inc., of Concord, and a Warner resident, reviewed information related to the fire station project. He explained the need for a new facility because the current Main Street building is simply inadequate for a modern department.
“It’s served its purpose but it’s past its useful lifespan now,” he said. “There are lots of requirements that we fail miserably on… It’s not code-compliant, not ADA-accessible, and on and on…” In addition, the building is too small to house necessary equipment, particularly modern trucks and other apparatuses.
Since last year’s town meeting, a committee has been working on moving the building plan forward. Mentos said the group has been working with North Branch Construction of Concord to deal with some of the most important issues including noise pollution, traffic and longevity.
The tentative plan currently call for constructing a facility that would be approximately 11,00-square feet and would include offices and meeting space (for emergency management and training, as well as fire department personnel), a kitchen and a garage space for all the department’s apparatus. The one-story brick building, which would be on a 4-acre parcel at the southern corner of Main Street and Split Rock Road, will look somewhat smaller from the main road because its longest length will run north-south.
Early estimates are that the energy-efficient station will cost approximately $2.5-million or less but this year the selectmen are only asking for $100,000 to be raised in taxes. The money will be used to move engineering and design work forward, with an eye towards presenting a building proposal to voters next year.
Both the solar array project and the building proposal have the support of the budget committee and the selectmen. Voters will consider them at the town meeting on March 14.
Ray Carbone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record on Feb. 28, 2017.