Council Requests More Information on Microgrid Proposal

The City Council voted to hold a second subcommittee meeting on a proposed municipal microgrid project before taking a final vote on the energy management service agreement and the lease of equipment.

The project seeks to provide emergency power to ensure continuity of public services, while promoting energy resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through new energy (battery) storage facilities at City Hall and the police station, coupled with solar panels on the DPW City Yard, according to Interim City Manager Ned Keefe.

Keefe requested that the council approve an energy services agreement (ESA) with Ameresco, Inc. in accordance with Massachusetts General Laws and authorize a lease purchase finance agreement for the borrowing of funds in the amount of $3,615,699 for the first phase of the microgrid project.

During a subcommittee meeting on the requests, several councilors raised concerns about the safety of the lithium batteries, as well as the financial feasibility of the project ultimately paying for itself.

Fire Chief Leonard Albanese addressed some of the concerns with the safety of the lithium batteries during the public speaking portion of Monday night’s regular council meeting.

“There were a couple of questions with the microgrid project with the battery energy storage systems,” said Albanese.

The chief said the fire department supports the project, and that the main issue with lithium battery storage is when they are stored inside.

“These microgrid projects were brought to us early on by some representatives of GreenRoots when they were in the grant writing portion of this,” said Albanese. “We are trying the best we can to keep these types of storage systems outdoors, and they met the requirements that we asked. We wanted them outdoors, at least five feet away in line with the basic code for outdoor energy storage.”

Councilor-at-Large Brian Hatleberg said he was one of the councilors who had concerns with the microgrid project and that he personally had some stress and angst over whether he would vote for it. However, he said the information from Albanese allayed his safety concerns and he would vote for the microgrid project.

“If the fire chief is comfortable with the fire safety aspect of it, I don’t have any reason to believe I know more than the fire chief,” said Hatleberg. “On the financials of it, I think it is fundamentally supported by the solar part of it for repaying of costs. I believe it pays for itself over time and gives more stable energy sources and backup.”

District 1 Councilor Todd Taylor said he still had questions and concerns about the proposal and said he was under the impression there would be a second subcommittee meeting.

“I got information today,” said Taylor. “I wanted to have a dialogue with the fire chief, rather than have him come up during public speaking when we can’t respond. I certainly don’t think I know more than the fire chief or more than anyone else, but I do have some substantial reservations about this project.”

District 8 Councilor Calvin Brown said he agreed that he also had some questions he would like answered in subcommittee.

Councilor-at-Large Damali Vidot said she would likely vote to move the project forward, but said she didn’t believe it was appropriate to take a final vote on Monday night when a number of councilors did not attend the first subcommittee meeting, and when there was still information the council had requested and were yet to receive from Ameresco.

The council voted to hold a second subcommittee meeting on the microgrid project next Monday evening.

“Faced with the call of whether to support or not support, I’m going to support,” Hatleberg said, but added he would support an additional meeting with more information.

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