The Waitsfield Select Board will not pursue a plan to install 15 solar trackers at the Waitsfield Town Garage after the installer, All Earth Renewables, changed the terms of the proposed deal.

The select board opted not to sign a power purchase agreement with All Earth at its September 13 meeting, after a discussion of the changes and whether to move forward. The town was already in a legal quandary as to whether the select board had the authority to sign a multi-year power purchase agreement (PPA), committing the town to a multi-year purchase without specific voter approval.


The town had been in consultation with its attorney and in negotiations with All Earth Renewables about specifics in the contract related to a multi-year power purchase agreement (PPA) when All Earth Renewables notified the town, in an September 9 letter, that the terms of the PPA had changed.

That change meant that instead of paying 18 cents per kilowatt hour for power produced by the solar trackers for five years, the town would be required to pay 25 cents per kilowatt hour. Additionally, rather than having the option of buying the solar tracker array after five years, the new proposal from All Earth Renewables no longer allowed the town to opt out of the project after five years.

The proposed new contract stated that at the end of the five-year initial term, the town's choices are limited to purchasing the array at fair market value, or renewing the PPA for up to two more five-year terms. Abandoning the project after five years would only be an option if the array produced less than 90 percent of its projected output.


Another factor complicating the project is the fact that, to prepare the town garage site for the installation, the town needed to have some tree work done and also have an old trailer/mobile home removed at an estimated cost of $21,000, which had not been budgeted this year.

Waitsfield was among many Vermont towns to be pitched for a solar project this spring by several companies seeking to take advantage of state and federal tax credits that expire at the end of this year. All Earth Renewables and another company that approached Waitsfield both proposed installing solar panels (either fixed or trackers) at no cost to the town. The systems were scaled in size to create as much power as the municipality used annually. The town would be required to purchase its power from the company and at the end of five years (or 10 years with one company) have the option to purchase the system.

$1,000 PER YEAR

The original pricing proposed was favorable to the town and would have resulted in a savings of about $1,000 per year on electricity costs. If the town purchased the All Earth system after five years, it would have realized the per kilowatt hour premium paid to power systems that feed into the grid.

At this week's meeting, board members expressed regret that the new contract was not something beneficial to the town. The contract changes, according to David Bittersdorf of All Earth Renewables, were required because the state of Vermont, halfway through the tax year, capped the state's business solar tax credit, making it a competitive process rather than a given credit. The original deal was based on that state credit as well as a federal investment tax credit.

After a discussion of the proposed new contract, board members voted not to sign the proposed agreement but to keep the issue of renewable energy on the table and work towards a similar project in 2011. Board members also discussed bringing the issue of signing a multi-year power contract to voters at Town Meeting next March. Board members also made clear that they were not faulting All Earth Renewables for the state's failure to make good on the tax credits it originally promised.