Solar panels

A proposed solar array in Keene could soon provide electricity for a sizable chunk of the city’s municipal energy needs.

The City Council’s finance, organization and personnel committee recommended, 4-0, Thursday that the full council authorize the city manager to negotiate and execute a contract with ReVision Energy to install and maintain a solar array on the roof of 350-400 Marlboro St.

The building houses the city’s police and public works departments, as well as Keene Ice.

The committee’s chairman, Ward 2 Councilor Mitchell H. Greenwald, was absent.

According to ReVision Energy employees Sam Lavallee and Elijah Garrison, the proposed 662-kilowatt array would be made of 2,070 solar panels, providing the bulk of the electricity used by the two municipal departments at that location. The skating rink would not use that electricity, as the city-owned space is leased to Keene Ice.

The proposal received effusive praise from committee member and Ward 3 Councilor Terry M. Clark, who described it as a key component of the city’s sustainability goals.

“I’m very excited about this project,” Clark said. “It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.”

City officials began seeking solar array proposals in February 2017, Assistant Public Works Director Duncan Watson said in an interview before Thursday’s meeting. As part of a power purchase agreement, the chosen business would design, build, operate and maintain a solar array on city-owned land.

Senior staff formed a team to evaluate various sites, as well as the four proposals received by the city. The team was made up of Public Works Director Kurt D. Blomquist; Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Andrew S. Bohannon; Clark; and Community Development Director W. Rhett Lamb.

Working with Correlate, an energy consulting firm, the team decided to pursue a solar array at 350-400 Marlboro St., which was chosen in part because the municipal facilities on-site would be able to use the electricity generated by the array, Watson said.

The team then selected ReVision Solar as the preferred vendor, a choice that Watson attributed to a strong track record of successful projects throughout New England.

Garrison and Lavallee sought to highlight those successes Thursday, referencing similar power purchase agreements with the city of Claremont, Dartmouth College and The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, among other entities.

“We see this as a really exciting opportunity for the city,” Garrison said.

ReVision, which has offices in Concord and Brentwood, plans to pay $1.2 million in construction costs with the help of investors, at no expense to the city.

The city would then purchase electricity from ReVision at about 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to Garrison and Lavallee, down from the 11.5 cents it currently pays for supply, transmission and delivery. That difference translates to an annual savings of about $13,500, they said.

“We’re always looking to reduce expenses in the city,” Watson said before the meeting. “This will provide a project that is equal to or less than what we’re currently paying for energy.”

Besides saving the city money, Watson said the project would have tremendous environmental benefits, offsetting more than 800,000 pounds of carbon emissions per year — the equivalent of more than 41,000 gallons of gasoline.

In addition to a hearty round of applause from members of the Monadnock Progressive Alliance’s Clean Energy Team, that prospect was met with enthusiastic support from committee members, including Ward 2 Councilor Carl B. Jacobs.

“I’m very glad we’re potentially taking advantage of this opportunity,” he said.

Ward 5 Councilor Thomas F. Powers, who also sits on the committee, raised concerns about whether the construction of the array, as well as the array itself, could interfere with radio signals at the police station. Powers is a former Keene police chief.

“This is a lot of metal and a lot of activity very, very close,” he said.

Watson said the array would be constructed on the other end of the roof and should not interfere in any way.

Lavallee echoed that sentiment and went on to describe the solar panels as basically inert, consisting mostly of aluminum and tempered glass.

“In our 8,000 solar projects in 13 years of experience, we’ve never had any issue with radio frequency interruption,” he said.

The proposal is set to go before the full council Aug. 2. If the council approves the proposal, it will then go to the city manager.

The contract with ReVision would cover the next 25 years. Starting at the seventh year, the city would have the option of buying the solar array at a discounted rate.

Watson said city officials are hoping for ReVision to complete the installation before the end of the year.

“It is possible that with weather delays this could extend into 2019,” he said. “But that’s not a deal-breaker.”

William Holt can be reached at 352-1234 extension 1435, or wholt@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @WHoltKS.