The selectmen put renewable energy on the front burner this week as it seeks to define a strategy for the town around the siting of a solar array.
Hugh Lauer from the board of directors issued a call for a comprehensive strategy to increase the town's energy supply in five-year increments so that by 2020 Concord would derive 30 percent of its power from renewable sources. The current level from renewable sources is about 10 percent.
Lauer recommends installing a solar array on town land and implementing a formal conservation program, among other energy-saving methods. His report called for "moving rapidly" toward a residential, municipal, commercial and utility-scale solar program.
The report said the town should "take an active role" in developing wind power sources in the region. The selectmen acknowledged that the town does not have sufficient wind to reduce its energy demand via wind power, but suppliers from Maine may be worth an investment, board members said.
"We must be proactive" to achieve the goal of 30 percent by 2020, Lauer said. He listed four initiatives to accomplish the goal, including exploiting the marketplace for new and cheaper sources of power; installing a utility-scale solar array; allowing rooftop solar collectors for municipal and residential buildings; and harnessing wind power outside of town.
The utility-scale array is most obvious, he said, because there is a study and a plan to install an array on town-owned land already. Town Meeting approved an array on two potential sites, but one was deemed off limits by the selectmen after residents objected. The so-called Ammendolia land is under cultivation by community gardeners. The other site at the wastewater treatment plant could be used, and a plan is undergoing review.
Lauer said the town could "develop an asset in town" by taking advantage of new technologies. He said the town could up its usage to 25 megawatts from renewable sources over 25 years.
"We could get started," said Lauer. "The costs are coming down" for solar generation and transmission costs, he said.
He said rooftop generation is "a different kind of animal," and could be used to augment a utility-scale array. There are solar panels at the Willard School, and MCI Concord's prison and prison farm.
Lauer said some 1,500 rooftops qualify for panels in town, and the town should "develop a leasing plan" for residential and commercial customers.
He said Town Meeting in 2012 would be the "best opportunity" to bring another plan to the town.
Selectmen Chairman Jeff Wieand asked if it was "wise to set a far off goal?" Lauer said it was wise not to. Selectman Greg Howes inquired about the Forest Ridge substation which needs an update. Lauer said a transformer could be added, but that a solar array could delay the need to update the substation.
Howes said with technology changing so fast, the town may be setting itself up to build an obsolete array. But Lauer disagreed, saying that arrays last a long time, 25 years or more, and the source is free.
But one resident, David Allen, rose to speak in opposition to the solar array. Allen said the goal should be to reduce the town's carbon footprint, and solar power will not accomplish it. Allen has a website: www.concord-trustingtheprocess.org in response to the backlash against the solar array proposed for the Ammendolia land, and the selectmen's "blundering effort" to use the farmland for solar power.
Allen said that solar technology "is about twice as expensive per unit of output as other available renewable options."
"In fact, the (possibly low-balled) bid taken up by the town does not save the town money in any material amount. Very most certainly does not, when the footprint is contracted in size, as has been. Your Town Manager has not been truthful," said Allen to the selectmen in an email following the meeting.
"Until you have read and understood adequately the details of the various, and sometimes countervailing, cost factors (available to you now for months at http://concord-trustingtheprocess.org/carbon_cost.html ), you cannot assess the matter. Definitively, you did not make sound judgments about it," Allen said.
He said costs do not justify an investment into solar technology at the moment. He said reduction of carbon is more sensible.
"We all know that our driving need is to reduce carbon, and thence to move away from the terrible and severe ill effects that will fall down on us otherwise. At today's capital costs, actions to install solar fail to reduce twice the carbon that would otherwise be, with the investment directed otherwise," Allen said. "You have made decisions based on a false claim, of cost savings. You have not made choices with the criterion that probably instantiates the value - carbon reduction - that most will hold. You can be better served. You can serve better."
Allen calls for a new group or committee that will better serve the town, he said.
" The practical approach to this is a group upon whom you can rely, both to bring you up to speed, where you must; and to be available to provide reliable input, when you can offload to them finer detail," he said.