NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

November 23, 2012

Mayor to seek $19,000 for solar energy projects

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — Following the city’s recent push toward a more expansive renewable energy program, Mayor Thatcher Kezer will ask the City Council to appropriate roughly $19,000 toward solar energy initiatives in the coming weeks.

The appropriation request will come in response to a letter from members of the City Council, who are pushing for the development of solar energy projects in Amesbury. The $19,000 appropriated would come from the city’s free cash account, Kezer said.

In recent months, Amesbury has been pursuing new renewable energy projects as a means of lowering energy costs, bringing in state and federal funds and easing the burden on the taxpayers.

In April, the city created a new solar overlay district to encourage solar development, and last week the council began discussing the “Stretch Energy Building Code,” which would tighten building requirements to make them more energy-efficient. Both are prerequisites toward earning Green Community designation from the state, which would make the city eligible for up to $10 million in grant funds.

At that same meeting, the City Council also adopted a two-page letter to Kezer asking that he submit an appropriation request to the council in order to fund “needed technical assistance to assist the City of Amesbury in developing cost-effective, solar energy projects.”

The letter, written by councilors Bob Lavoie, Christian Scorzoni and President Anne Ferguson, noted that the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission has set up a partnership with the Meister Consultant Group so communities like Amesbury can get help developing renewable energy projects while paying a reduced rate for their assistance.

“Because many communities within our region lack the expertise and resources to deal with solar energy developments,” the letter said, “the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission initiated a technical assistance program aimed at providing communities with ‘owner’s agent’ services through the Meiser Consultant Group.”

The letter also emphasized that large-scale solar projects are becoming “a new reality,” and that federal and state mandates and incentives have allowed communities throughout the area to lock in favorable prices while driving down energy costs and taking advantage of otherwise unproductive parcels of land.

“It has become clear to many of us that the city has the ability to save several hundred thousand dollars per year through a long-term solar lease agreement, while generating significant property tax revenue for Amesbury,” the letter said. “If we are to pursue a project on city-owned land, these tax benefits increase substantially.”

The councilors said that the potential solar projects could generate revenues that could later be used to pay for necessary municipal improvements, including soccer field expansion activities.

“We need a comprehensive strategy to develop solar projects that will generate strong community support, lock in the most favorable energy prices, all while maximizing the value of our existing city parcels,” the letter said. “Funding technical assistance would be an important first step to realizing this potential.”

Kezer said he is still looking into the matter to see exactly what Amesbury’s current situation looks like, but said he will submit an appropriation request when he has all the information necessary.

“We do intend on going forward with the initiatives on the green energy,” Kezer said.

According to the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, Amesbury has over 8 megawatts of potential solar capacity on landfill space alone, the letter said. The councilors also noted that since the city created a new solar overlay district in the spring, the city had seen steady interest from solar developers looking to develop projects within Amesbury.