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Ferrisburgh solar farm close to receiving PSB approval

FERRISBURGH — Work to install 186 non-reflective, 10-foot-high solar panels along Route 7 next to Vergennes Union High School could begin as soon as September, according to the owner of the 16-acre parcel that will house what he said will be, at least for a time, the largest such project north of New Jersey.
Burlington developer Ernie Pomerleau, longtime owner of the Ferrisburgh tract along Route 7’s west side, is a principal investor in the project, known as Addison Solar Farm.
Pomerleau said the Vermont Public Service Board could approve a permit for the 1-megawatt solar array at any time — in fact, he said an affirmative permit has been written and awaits only signatures.
“We had our hearing in June. Everything was fine,” Pomerleau said. “Everyone has stipulated to the permit. We have worked carefully with all the surrounding entities and answered all their questions and addressed all their concerns.”
A PSB official said last week that the permit, technically a Certificate of Public Good, for the Addison Solar Farm was “still pending before the board.” A power outage at the PSB office on July 26 also slowed work there early last week by temporarily shutting down the agency’s computers.
Pomerleau, one of the most experienced and prolific developers in Chittenden County, said the PSB and other state officials have been “professional, very straightforward.” He hopes that the last bit of red tape can be cut soon to allow Addison Solar Farm LLC to green-light construction quickly for a target completion date of December.
The completed project will produce enough power to run 170 homes a year; Green Mountain Power will purchase that electricity. The plan calls for the roughly 186 ground-mounted solar panels to face southward on about 8 acres of the parcel.
Pomerleau’s proposal is one of a limited number of similar projects that have been approved for the Vermont Sustainably Priced Energy Development (SPEED) program, a state effort to encourage renewable energy development.
The SPEED program, started in 2005, was significantly revised in May 2009, when the Vermont Legislature passed a law that guarantees renewable energy producers will get long-term contracts with minimum rates for the power they produce. Under the new law, energy producers will be paid 30 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar power, higher than the rate for other sources.
A New Haven solar farm proposed for a 40-acre Route 7 parcel in the town’s north end of town also hopes to take advantage of that legislation. The developers of that project hope to generate enough electricity with 178 larger panels to power 500 homes a year.
Even with the price bonus, Pomerleau does not expect to make a killing from Addison Solar Farm, although he believes the project will break better than even after a $5 million investment.
“I do hope to make money on it, but it is not a get-rich-quick scheme,” he said.
Pomerleau, a former chairman of a governor’s commission on climate change, insists, however, money is not why he describes himself as “pretty excited” about the project.
Instead, he sees alternative energy, especially solar power, as a key component of Vermont’s — and the nation’s — economic and environmental future.
Projects like the Addison Solar Farm, which will be designed and built largely by local and in-state contractors, will establish momentum for bigger and better projects to come, Pomerleau said.
“We’re philosophically embedded in this for a lot of reasons,” he said. “You create jobs here, and, by the way, you improve the economy and you improve the environment.”
As projects establish that solar power can be feasible, and then market demand grows, Pomerleau said increasing research efforts will improve the technology and make it a more and more competitive power source.
He used computing as an example, noting his first $5,000 computer had only a tiny fraction of the processing and storage ability of his new smart phone.
“If we can continue to drive this process … I believe the cost of these things will come down dramatically,” he said, adding, “What we’re seeing is the demand for solar is so high is that people are running into the market.”
Addison Solar Farm will also include a parking area and an information kiosk prepared in cooperation with GMP to allow passers-by — and VUHS students and teachers, who can potentially incorporate the project into their classroom efforts — to see how the solar panels are generating power.
Pomerleau said the high-profile site itself should also help spread the word.
“When people see this, they’ll be aware of the fact these are good projects that will make sense,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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