Bethel looks to solar power

Multiple solar panels would provide electricity to a power grid for credits against the town’s electricity bill, and the panels would be out of sight to satisfy those concerned about the aesthetics of the panels.

The solar energy farm, which could be financed without a capital cost to Bethel, comes out of more than a year of research by the Energy Conservation Committee, which First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker created to investigate energy saving for the town. "The committee has been meeting monthly for about a year and a half, looking at the town’s energy usage, grant opportunities, and interviewing companies who help determine how to lower bills," Knickerbocker said last week. "They also have been looking at lighting and windows in town buildings."

Committee chairman William Cratty, who presented some of his research about the solar farm to the Board of Selectmen on Aug. 2, said the committee has put together the core of a plan to reduce energy costs and reduce the town’s carbon footprint. "The first project we want to pursue is the solar panels," Cratty said last week. "There is a state law that has major changes that will benefit municipalities."

The state law allows for net metering, which means surplus electricity generated by an energy system during a monthly billing period can be transferred to the subsequent month as a credit. Cratty brought to the selectmen’s meeting two representatives from Sustainable Energy Analytics, which specializes in energy performance and would help Bethel devise a package with no capital cost to the town.

Through an agreement, financing partners would cover the cost of the equipment and installation and make some money selling the electricity. The town would pay off the investment over two years, while paying less for electricity than it would otherwise, and then have lower costs for the future. Massachusetts and New Hampshire have many projects under way, but Connecticut is just starting to catch up to them, Cratty said.

Cratty said Connecticut has a certain amount of money each year for these projects, and he hoped the town could move forward so its project could be selected this year. Knickerbocker said solar panels used to be installed on individual buildings but they were hard to maintain, so the farm concept has become a better approach for capturing solar power.

Eileen FitzGerald,