In an effort to reduce energy costs, the town of Wilton plans to work with the town of Weston to share the benefits of an off-site solar energy program, called Virtual Net Metering (VNM).
The program could save the town up to $50,000 annually in energy costs.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously at its meeting on Jan. 7 to authorize First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice to confer with Town Counsel Doug LoMonte to negotiate a VNM agreement with the town of Weston and Citrine Power, the solar power provider.
At the meeting, Vanderslice gave a multi-page PowerPoint presentation which she developed with Facilities & Energy Management Director Chris Burney. The document, “Meeting Presentation” can be found on the town’s website, wiltonct.org, under the Meeting Videos/Audio link for Jan. 7.
Virtual Net Metering gives participants energy billing credits for renewable solar electricity generated at a location not physically connected to the account. It is available only to farms, the state, and municipalities.
The joint VNM program with Weston would allow Wilton to reap the benefits of energy produced by a solar field in Middletown. Energy generated from there would go back to Eversource and Eversource then would give Wilton a credit.
In 2011, the state set a renewable energy goal of 20% by the year 2020. In response, the legislature adopted legislation to meet those goals:
- Net Metering (credit for renewable electricity generated and physically connected to an account) approved for all property owners.
- Virtual Net Metering (credit for renewable electricity generated, but not physically connected to an account) approved for farms, the state and municipalities.
In 2018, the state ended any new net metering for residential customers. Vanderslice said anyone in Wilton who puts solar panels on his or her home is grandfathered in to receive net metering benefits.
The state required Eversource and United Illuminating to develop a new plan for purchasing energy and renewable energy credits. The state is still awaiting that plan, and has set a new renewable goal of 40% renewables by 2030.
In response to the 2011 legislation, Eversource offered two programs in which municipalities could participate using solar:
- The ZREC program (Zero Emissions Renewable Energy Credit), which gives credit for solar-generated energy.
- And the VNM program. The VNM application period began in 2015, but closed out after about a year due to the limited cap availability.
Under both programs, Eversource maintains an application waitlist to ensure they meet the required minimum purchases set by the state.
There are five distinct advantages to VNM awards over ZRECs, Vanderslice said. Credits can be applied up to five Eversource meters. Beneficial accounts can be re-assigned each year, should energy needs change. Beneficial accounts can include accounts from other municipalities. The town is free from any involvement with the installation of solar panels and ongoing maintenance. VNM can prove additional savings for a property which also has a ZREC installation.
Under the ZREC program, the Wilton Board of Education is reaping approximately $60,000 a year in benefits from solar panels it has on several school roofs. An award is in the process for Wilton High School, which is expected to save $25,000 a year in electricity costs, Vanderslice said.
The town did not initially submit applications under the VNM program. But Wilton has since submitted a VNM application for one megawatt to replace Weston’s waitlisted application. So now Wilton is first on the waitlist, Vanderslice said. If selected, savings could be expected to be up to an additional $100,000 per year over the life of the agreement. “If we’re lucky, we’ll get taken off the waitlist” and pick up the power, she said.
Partnering with Weston
The waitlist issue aside, Vanderslice said she has had ongoing talks with Weston First Selectman Chris Spaulding and Weston Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz about joining them in the VNM program.
Weston was initially awarded a one-megawatt VNM application but does not require the full megawatt of its first award. Weston has a second one-megawatt application, which remains on Eversource’s waitlist. Weston does not expect to need the remaining second megawatt.
So, the town of Weston has offered Wilton its excess power, which measures more than 800,000 Kwh, for an estimated $25,000 a year in reduced costs assuming 0% inflation in utility costs, or $50,000 reduction if there is a 2% increase in utility costs, which there has been over the past 10 years, Vanderslice said
By accepting the offer, Wilton would need to enter into agreements with the town of Weston and Citrine Power, the company which is developing the solar project which would be the basis for Wilton and Weston’s joint VNM contract.
Weston Town Administrator Luiz, who is a new resident of Wilton, said Weston’s participation in the VNM program was created to support clean energy initiatives and Weston does not need the full additional megawatt it has applied for.
He said Eversource is paying Weston credits under its first VNM agreement for a solar farm in eastern Connecticut.
“It is a profitable arrangement for the town. From our perspective it has worked as advertised. We have seen credits roll in on our Eversource bills,” Luiz said
The agreement with Wilton would be for a property in Middletown. The solar farm there has not yet been constructed but is expected to be completed by Citrine Power in 2019.
This would be a long-term contract for Wilton, to last 25 years. Vanderslice explained that if Wilton does not need all the power under the VNM program, it could bring in another municipality to share the excess power, just as Weston is doing now.
“I am 100% in favor of the program,” said Department of Public Works Director Chris Burney. He said the one risk of the program he sees is that the town could subscribe for too much power, but he doesn’t believe that would pose much of a risk.