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Valley Shore YMCA in Westbrook may soon drastically cut its electricity bills, possibly as early as mid-summer 2019. Eversource recently approved the YMCA for a zero-emission renewable energy credit (ZREC), which will provide for the installation of solar panels on the YMCA’s property at no cost to the YMCA.
The YMCA is working with Middletown-based solar company Greenskies, which will own, install, operate, and maintain the solar array (group of solar panels) on the YMCA property. The proposal has elements that will need town approval to proceed.
The contract with Greenskies, from which the YMCA will purchase its electricity, provides for a guaranteed 20-year deeply cut electrical generation rate.
Connecticut YMCAs already collectively purchase their electricity at a lower rate from Eversource, but this project will save the Valley Shore YMCA more than half a million dollars over the next 20 years, said Valley Shore YMCA Executive Director Chris Pallatto.
“Our solar project will cover almost all of our energy costs,” he said, noting that size of the anticipated array will allow for substantial energy generation. “We will buy about 90 percent of our energy from Greenskies.
The system “offsets almost the entire building,” said Greenskies business developer Ryan Linares, meaning the YMCA should have minimal expenses for electricity beyond that the installation produces.
“What is appealing to the Y...is there’s really no risk for the Y,” said Pallatto. “Greenskies owns and maintains the system. If a tree fell and crushed a couple of panels or a segment of one of the panels was bad for any reason…the whole process is automated and Greenskies will instantly send someone out to fix them. They only make their money when they sell us power.”
The ZREC and LREC (low emission renewable energy credit) programs were created by a 2011 Connecticut law that expires this year. The programs’ purpose is to foster renewable energy at affordable rates and to “reduce the energy load on the grid,” said Pallatto.
“The ZREC program has been around in Connecticut for six years now and it requires that Eversource procure renewable energy credits (RECs),” Linares said.
Under the program, renewable energy projects such as this one earn RECs, which Greenskies then sells to Eversource at a fixed rate specified in a 15-year contract. The arrangement allows Greenskies to build and maintain the system at no cost to the customer.
The credits in turn are applied by the utility company to fulfill the state’s mandate that 20 percent of electricity be generated by Class I renewables (meaning solar and wind) by the year 2020.
Another facet of the program will allow the Y to effectively rack up credit with Eversource for electricity generated by the solar panels in excess of what the Y uses. This credit is then used when cloud cover (or night skies) reduce or eliminate their effectiveness. Termed “net metering credit,” this system sends unused generated electricity into the grid and accounts for it so that the equivalent amount of energy can be used later at no charge.
“The State of Connecticut has [net metering credit],” said Linares. “A lot of states do not. If we’re overproducing during the day when solar’s at its peak, on a cloudy day or at nighttime it will technically be drawing from the grid.”
The YMCA plans to install the solar panels as near to I-95 as possible, thereby minimizing the impact the project will have on its 25 acres. A fence will enclose the entire array of solar panels.
“The panels will be on stands. They’re designed to withstand the weather and elements and [will be] pretty low to the ground and they’ll be occupying a portion of our property that’s next to I-95,” said Pallatto.
The strip of land between the Y’s property and the highway, however, is owned by the state and has quite a few tall trees.
We are inquiring with the [Department of Transportation] if we can clear the trees at our expense so that we can move the array closer to the highway,” Pallatto said.
“The trees are significant in height and cast a shadow,” Linares added.
Once the precise location is finalized, all contracts are secured, and engineering plans are in place, Greenskies will seek approval from the Town of Westbrook.
The project requires that the YMCA undergo an upgrade to its electrical system. This will entail some power outages at its facility, which the YMCA will communicate well in advance to its members, Pallatto said.
The entire project, he said, will “have minimal impact on our organization during the construction process.”
“We hope to have the project done before the summer season begins so doesn’t impact the summer camp program,” Pallatto said.
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