Middlebury solar array eyed

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard has unanimously endorsed a proposal to install a 650-panel, 150-kilowatt solar array project on municipal land behind the local police headquarters on Lucius Shaw Lane. Organizers hope to be producing energy by the end of the year.
The project, being spearheaded by the Acorn Energy Co-op, would generate an estimated 172,500 kWh of electricity each year — enough to provide electricity to 30 average-sized homes, according to organizers.
In return for leasing to the co-op the required municipal land at a rate of $1 per year for 25 years, the town will get one-third of the electricity generated by the arrays each year for 10 years at standard Central Vermont Public Service rates. In addition, the town will receive a refund averaging $1,000 per year for the first 10 years, increasing to $1,200 annually in year 11, and increasing to $2,400 annually by year 16.
The co-op will form a limited liability corporation to develop the solar array project and manage it during its anticipated 25-year lifespan. One-third of the electricity generated would be available to the equity partner in the project, and the remaining third of the electricity would be made available to co-op members as subscribers under a “group net metering” arrangement.
“This we see as the first of what we hope will be many arrays that we will implement,” said energy co-op treasurer Rich Carpenter. “We’re starting with something we think will be manageable and doable. … We have already identified another site that would be capable of a 500-kilowatt array.”
Solar arrays have become more prevalent in Vermont in recent years in the wake of state legislation passed in 2009 that requires state utilities to purchase solar energy at a premium in order to help in the financing of such projects.
The Acorn Energy Co-op is a consumer-owned energy cooperative that grew out of the Addison County Relocalization Network energy committee. The co-op was established in 2008 as a tool to help people in Addison, Rutland and Chittenden counties transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, noted Carpenter.
“We have two full years of successful operations under our belt,” Carpenter said, noting the co-op currently has 190 members and an e-mail list of 550.
He explained the proposed solar array project fits within the energy co-op’s mission of developing green power — and in this case, on a hilly site of roughly one acre that does not fit into the town’s immediate plans. It is land that was part of the former municipal sewer plant.
“There’s nothing we can build back there,” Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said of the property, located northwest of the police station. “The land is not of any use to us.”
The arrays will be grouped in four to six rows, facing almost due south. They will be mounted on top of concrete and other solid material lurking just below the surface of the site, according to Carpenter. It will be important to anchor the arrays to protect them from being blown over during windy conditions, Carpenter explained.
The Middlebury project will be roughly one-seventh of the size of the solar farm off Route 7 in Ferrisburgh near Vergennes, which is rated for 1 megawatt, Carpenter noted.
The Middlebury array will be the co-op’s responsibility to, among other things, manage, finance and ultimately dismantle when its useful life has ended.
Meanwhile, the town will agree to assist the project through the planning stages and grant the co-op’s 25-year lease request.
“We’d like to refer to this as a renewable energy partnership between the town and the energy co-op,” Carpenter said.
“Our goal is to begin construction in late summer or early fall, and be generating solar electricity before the end of the year,” he added.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington praised the Acorn Energy Co-op’s effort. He noted the Middlebury’s ad hoc Energy Committee had itself tried to spearhead a solar project, with limited success.
“Acorn stepped up,” Dunnington said. “Needless to say, the energy committee is appreciative and supports this.”
Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny also praised the Acorn Energy Co-op for its efforts.
“This makes very good sense,” Tenny said. “It is putting some land to use which I cannot foresee would have a use otherwise. We can be proud as a community to be part of the effort.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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