Councilor: School Board’s Solar Panel Kerfuffle Cut City’s Profit on Landfill Array

Haverhill City Concilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The inability of the School Committee to come to an agreement on a solar panel project at Haverhill High School dulled the city’s enthusiasm for similar projects, stalling the momentum on an array at the capped Old Groveland Road landfill, Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien (pictured) said.

After several years and two rounds of proposals, city officials in November offered a contract to Kearsarge Energy of Boston to build a 4.04 megawatt solar array at the landfill. The city stands to receive about $3.6 million over a 20-year lease. The agreement does not include an opportunity for the city to buy electricity from the project at a reduced rate.

Daly O’Brien said the city is suffering because of the School Committee’s failure in the summer of 2016 to approve solar panels on the high school roof, which would have been replaced as part of the project.

Disagreements among board members and questions about the contractor and the safety of the project spilled over, causing city officials to move slowly and more cautiously than they otherwise would, Daly O’Brien said.

“That turned into a real mess, and we’re still paying for that mess,” she said.

Councilor Colin F. LePage said when the city started looking into installing solar panels on the landfill, the anticipated lease payment was $6 million and there was an opportunity to buy reduced-rate electricity as well.

Other forces combined to delay the landfill project, Councilor William J. Macek reminded his colleagues. The company chosen after the first round of proposals went bankrupt, forcing the city to advertise the project for a second time. During the interim, the alternative-energy marketplace changed, and not for the better.

The city’s contract with Kearsarge gives the company 12 months to come up with a final design and to have the plan reviewed and approved by the city.

Councilors Joseph J. Bevilacqua and Timothy J. Jordan urged city officials to move as quickly as possible to get the project up and running.

“If we keep dragging our feet, the incentives are going to get worse, not better,” Jordan said.

“It’s going to be a while before this project gets voted, gets built, and money starts coming into the city,” Bevilacqua said.

Steven S. Bucuzzo, the city’s purchasing agent, said Kearsarge’s proposal was the most impressive among the eight the city received, in part because of its technical experience, record of installing solar arrays on capped landfills and a good working relationship with National Grid.

“I think the city is very excited with this firm … and believes they will  provide a quality development on the Old Haverhill Landfill,” Bucuzzo said.