At Tuesday’s meeting, Estey, who is the town’s zoning administrator, asked Cohen to clarify that despite reports identifying him as the zoning administrator in connection with the letter, he intended to write the letter as a property owner of the town, not in his capacity as zoning administrator. Regardless of what capacity Estey intended to submit the letter under, it gave the board pause. The board said they wanted more time to look into Estey’s concerns, which included a potential lack of participation in a public buy-in option for panels of the array and the board’s neglecting to seek competitive bids.
“I came (to the last meeting) expecting feedback with the lease, and that’s when Mr. Estey’s letter was read,” said Meima. “Ever since then, to really make sure we understood the legalities, our attorney Dave Carpenter spoke with Chris Dugan and they had a conversation about Wayne’s letter and the minutes (of the meeting), and we’re sort of at that point. We’d love to do the project.”
Meima said that in all of Green Lantern’s recent solar projects, including projects in Bethel, Royalton, Starksboro, Cambridge, Newfane, and Wilmington, competitive bids had not been sought. “Is it a good business deal for the town?” said Meima. “It’s a piece of property that wasn’t being used for anything else and it has potential to generate income.”
Resident Adam Levine asked whether the land could be used for another purpose that may be more profitable for the town. Board member Sarah Shippee said she called the Agency of Natural Resources and from what she understood, uses were limited. “They said you can’t disturb the cap,” said Shippee. “It has to be something that would sit on top. A ball field, a park or a solar array are what you could use it for.”
Levine asked if acreage at the landfill other than the cap could be used for something else that could be profitable. “I understand the ANR permitting process is not easy,” said Levine. “I’m just hoping that the board is familiar with the specific piece of property. The rest of it may not be as usable.”
“Ask Wayne,” said board member Dan Baliotti. “He’s the zoning guy.”
“The site that the lease covers is 0.8 acres,” said Estey. “It is not the entire cap, it is the most desirable part of the whole site. Allowing this lease to go forward on that 0.8 acres, and to Adam’s point, the rest of the site which is solar-eligible, now becomes valueless, because nobody is putting any solar panels on the remainder of the site now that the prime location with the highest efficiencies facing southwest is (used). All the ones that are facing 1, 2, 5, or 10 degrees less only are viable if they also include this prime space. One of the questions is, OK, this is the lease for the 0.8 acres. Doing that scrapes the patina off of the rest of the acreage so that for another solar provider, it is no longer viable.”
Economic development director Steve Neratko said that in his experience in other towns, an RFP and an appraisal would be done before going into a lease or sale. He told the board that if they wanted to do an RFP, it would be a straightforward process.
Estey said that in his view, the lease was not the piece of the puzzle that had the most potential for revenue. “That lease has no value to the lessee or the lessor,” said Estey. “The real value, millions of dollars, is in the energy and renewable energy credits and tax credits that are enabled by the granting of the lease.”
Cohen said that after the RFP process, he hopes Estey will be part of negotiations. The board approved a motion to empower Neratko to create an RFP.