WELLFLEET — After a two-year delay, Wellfleet’s solar array is “on.”
The power company Eversource and the solar contractor Ameresco flipped the switch on Dec. 9, bringing online 2,400 solar panels that have been sitting idle on top of the capped landfill since 2019.
Wellfleet now joins nearly every other Cape Cod town in hosting solar panels on the hills that have covered buried trash for decades. On the Outer Cape, Provincetown uses town land nearby for the purpose, because the landfill itself is on Cape Cod National Seashore property. Eastham has hosted solar panels since 2014. Truro has not leased out the top of its capped landfill.
There are 100 acres of ground-mounted solar panels installed on Cape Cod as of 2014, most of them on “previously disturbed sites such as landfills,” according to the Cape Cod Commission, a regional planning and land use agency.
Wellfleet’s project has taken a while. “It’s been so long, that, let’s put it this way — I was a teenager when it started,” joked Dick Elkin, chairman of the Wellfleet Energy & Climate Change Committee.
Wellfleet got the ball rolling in 2013, when the planning board wrote a zoning bylaw allowing ground-mounted solar arrays. The bylaw passed at town meeting that year.
In 2018, the Energy & Climate Change Committee put out a request for proposals and accepted a bid from Ameresco, headquartered in Framingham, to construct and install photovoltaic panels on the 7.4-acre site.
But the project stalled when Eversource did a title search on the land beside the entrance to the transfer station in order to erect utility poles that would be needed for carrying power from the solar array. The town had taken the land by eminent domain years earlier, but it was not clear that the taking included the land by the roadway, too, Elkin said.
Since the title was not clear, Eversource went to Land Court.
“Then Covid hit, and Land Court shut down,” Elkin said.
This year, at long last, the court cleared the title, after which the final paperwork with Eversource took about four more months, Elkin said.
When the power went on, the neighbors were amazed.
Fred Vanderschmidt, who lives at 30 Pheasant Run, said he had been curious about why the array had stood unused for “months and years.”
“I was happy to see it turned on,” Vanderschmidt said. “It gives the old landfill a use.”
The solar array costs the town nothing and will bring in $30,000 annually from Ameresco to lease the land, $15,000 from Ameresco in lieu of taxes, and a $15,000 annual reduction in the town’s electrical bill from Eversource.
Elkin said that the agreement does not pay for all the town’s electricity — the town’s electric bill comes to about $160,000 a year. The town opted to take the deal typically offered to host communities. The town continues to get electricity from Eversource at a discount. The Nauset School District will also get a small discount, Elkin said.
The energy generated by solar panels placed on a house is easily credited directly to that home’s bill, Elkin explained. But for a town with multiple buildings, that gets a lot more complicated, requiring extra infrastructure, and the expense, Elkin said, “is not worth it.”
Last January, then-town administrator Maria Broadbent said the array was expected to generate 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. In terms of carbon dioxide emissions, she said, it would be the equivalent of taking 180 cars off the road.
Ameresco did not return calls from the Independent on whether the two-year delay will affect revenue to the town. Dept. of Public Works Director Jay Norton said Ameresco and municipal officials plan to talk later this week.