WESTERLY — A proposed partnership between the town and a private developer that would build and operate a solar power array on White Rock Road took a step forward this week when the Town Council authorized interim Town Manager J. Mark Rooney to negotiate terms of a contract with the company.
The council voted unanimously on Monday to have Rooney negotiate with Ameresco Inc. of Framingham, Mass. The company has proposed an array it says would generate 10,896,000 kilowatt hours in its first year on a 100-acre site that extends behind the town’s school bus depot on Springbrook Road.
The town would purchase the land as part of the project. Rawson Materials Inc. owns the land and operates a quarry on the 30-acre portion where the array would be constructed. Rawson bought the land in March from Cherenzia Co. The sales agreement included an option for the town to purchase the entire parcel for $3.34 million. Cherenzia Co. gave Rawson a mortgage for $6.5 million as part of the transaction, in which Rawson also purchased Cherenizia’s quarry on Old Hopkinton Road, and Cherenzia transferred its lease of the Comolli family’s Bradford quarry to Rawson. Ameresco has offered the town a $3 million up-front payment as part of its proposal. The money would be used toward the purchase of the property, officials have said.
According to an analysis of Ameresco’s proposal performed by Mark Miller of Colliers International, the town’s energy consultant, the array would provide a total benefit of $7.25 million to the town over the course of the company’s 25-year lease of the land.
The system would operate under a net metering arrangement. In essence, the town and school system would buy about 75 percent of the power generated by the array at a 30 percent discount, for a projected savings of $300,000 per year. Ameresco would sell the remaining 25 percent of the power to other customers.
The company, which was founded in 2000 and went public in 2010, has built more than 90 solar projects, including one on the roof of a Providence Water Supply building, and others on municipal and school sites in Massachusetts. DiPrete Engineering of Cranston will serve as the company’s consultant, providing civil engineering and permitting services.
According to Ameresco’s proposal, it would take the company about 11 months from the time of the contract award to get the array built and fully functioning.
Ameresco was one of nine firms that responded to a request for proposals issued by the town at the request of former Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy. The firm was selected as one of three finalists. According to Miller, Southern Sky Renewable Energy of Warwick, one of the other finalists, raised a question about the financial analysis performed by Collier’s International. Collier’s response to Southern Sky’s inquiry did not receive a reply, Miller said. Energy Development Partners of Providence also raised a concern but was satisfied with Collier’s explanation, Miller said.
Rooney said town officials agreed to find a developer as an initial step. He said that officials did not want to move forward until “we know it can make money for the town and not lose, and we don’t buy the property without having a solid partner and investor so the taxpayer is well protected.”
Miller called Ameresco’s proposal “a great deal for the town.”
The council was originally set to give Rooney the authority to sign a contract with Ameresco, but at Councilor Mario Celico’s suggestion the council agreed to have Rooney negotiate with Ameresco and return to the council with a proposed contract