ELLSWORTH — An 11,000-panel solar project planned for two sites on the Mariaville Road can move forward after Planning Board members approved a decommissioning plan for the panels earlier this month.
Board members had rejected a draft version of the decommissioning plan at first, said City Planner Theresa Oleksiw, worrying that it might leave taxpayers on the hook for the cost of disposing of the panels. But members said they felt the final version will provide enough protection for the city.
“Basically this is the applicant’s way of guaranteeing the city that if the applicant isn’t around and the projects need to be decommissioned at that time that we have what we believe to be adequate funds to do so,” explained attorney Ed Bearor, representing the city at a meeting on Sept. 2. The project is being developed by Portsmouth, N.H.-based SunRaise Investments.
“I just want to make sure that when it is decommissioned that the taxpayers are not hung out to dry for the cost,” said board member John DeLeo. “I think we’re at the point where I’m OK with this decommissioning.”
The project had already received unanimous final approval from the Planning Board at a virtual meeting on June 3, with the caveat that board members be able to review the decommissioning plan for the panels before giving their final sign-off.
The decommissioning document, which has to be renewed each year, puts the cost of removing the panels at $93,000 after 20 years, accounting for inflation. At the 20-year mark, Bearor explained, the cost of decommissioning would be re-examined. That may very well happen, as staff at SunRaise have told the city the panels could have a life cycle of around 35 years.
“In other words, if after 20 years goes by and it needs to be decommissioned, they have to do a new calculation of the cost of decommissioning,” Oleksiw said this week.
The cost of getting rid of panels varies depending on the size and complexity of the project, but a “Solar Guidebook for Local Governments” written by staff at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority put the cost of decommissioning a 2-megwatt solar panel system at just shy of $100,000, accounting for inflation at 2.5 percent. That includes everything from breaking up concrete pads, removing cables and panels, re-grading the land, reseeding it, removing fencing and trucking the materials to a recycling center.
Staff at SunRaise said earlier this summer they planned to start construction in the fall.