Solar partner BlueWave Capital of Boston still game for project at capped Amherst landfill



Last modified: Tuesday, April 28, 2015

AMHERST — The company selected to bring a solar project to the capped landfill in Amherst is willing to continue pursuing green energy at the Belchertown Road site — if town officials express interest in reviving the concept.

John DeVillars, managing partner of BlueWave Capital in Boston, said Thursday that even though the original project for which Amherst signed a contract in 2012 has been dropped, he sees the recent dismissal of a lawsuit filed in Hampshire Superior Court against the solar arrays as an opportunity to bring forward a new proposal for reuse of the capped landfill.

“We’re very pleased to see this recent development,” DeVillars said. “We look forward to supporting the town in any way we can in terms of working with the neighbors to the landfill on a smaller system that will be as great a benefit to the town and less visual impact, if any, for the abutters.”

DeVillars’ comments come after Town Manager John Musante earlier this week said that the project as originally envisioned will not go forward, mainly because of the lawsuit filed in 2011, but also due to changes in the financial market for solar.

On Thursday, Musante reiterated that position, saying that the landfill project as proposed is not on the table, and there is no current plan to revive it.

“We’re not moving forward with that project, (though) the town remains interested in pursuing solar opportunities there and elsewhere,” Musante said.

Musante added that town officials intend to keep all options open for solar.

Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer has said solar will likely be a topic for a future meeting, with a discussion centered on whether to explore a new proposal and on what scale. This could happen sometime after annual Town Meeting concludes.

DeVillars said he believes landfills are good locations for solar projects. He said dozens have been safely developed, and concerns from those who live nearby can be addressed.

In addition, neighbors are protected by permitting agencies such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, he said.

“The rigorous DEP permitting process will ensure that what is built there maintains the integrity of the landfill cap,” said DeVillars, adding that visual impacts can be reduced through tree planting and other natural barriers.

Originally, the town envisioned saving $25 million in energy costs over 30 years. While that estimate is no longer valid, a solar project would still meet the town’s goal of reducing dependence on energy that contributes to climate change, DeVillars said. “The end result would be of value to the town,” DeVillars said.

He explained that the reduced financial impact is primarily due to a decline in the value of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. Utilities purchase these certificates from private companies involved in producing solar energy in lieu of paying penalties for not using green energy.

But he said the certificates are worth substantially less than they were in 2012. “That makes the economics more challenging,” DeVillars said.

Federal tax credits for investors remain at 30 percent, but are scheduled to be reduced to 10 percent at the end of 2016, which further erodes the economic viability of projects.

DeVillars acknowledged that the ball is in the town’s court if it is interested in restarting discussions and again seeking proposals on a solar project.

“For both environmental and financial reasons, the town would be well-advised to restart the process,” DeVillars said. “Personally, BlueWave would be interested in cooperating in that process.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


 

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