At the Special Town Meeting next week, voters will face a "fish-or-fowl" argument when considering four articles related to the Harvard Solar Garden (HSG) and its request for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement and modified permitting and inspection fees. Voters are being asked for a decision now, before the Garden breaks ground at its location in the solar overlay district off Ayer Road and before solar incentives expire in December.
Applying standard commercial fees and tax rates to a community solar garden is inappropriate, according to HSG project manager Worth Robbins, who is also a co-owner of the Harvard Press. "The Solar Garden shareholders did not expect the permit fee to be the same as an individual homeowner's fee, but we did anticipate some multiple of the single system cost would be applied to the shared system. The $17,000 fee is excessive."
The Colorado model
Robbins points to the Colorado model, where the Community Solar Garden Act created an entity distinct from residential and commercial systems. Under such a model, fees and taxes for a project like the Harvard Solar Garden would be less than standard commercial fees. California has passed similar legislation. The idea seemed to offer a solution for those who had wanted to participate in the 2011 Solarize Mass pilot project, but couldn't do so as individuals—whether for too little sun, the wrong orientation, or insufficient structural support.