Board gives solar farm a green light

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously agreed to lease an acre of town property to a nonprofit group to use to house a small solar farm for the next 25 years.
The lease was struck with a local group called “Acorn Energy One Solar LLC” for an acre of land located north and a little west of the Middlebury police station off Lucius Shaw Lane.
The property is slated to host a 650-panel, 150-kilowatt solar array that is expected to generate around 172,500 kilowatt hours of electricity each year — enough to provide electricity to 30 average homes, according to developers.
In return for leasing the co-op the required municipal land at a rate of $1 per year for 25 years, the town will be provided one-third of the electricity generated by the arrays each year for 25 years.
Using standard Central Vermont Public Service rates, that arrangement is estimated to provide an annual credit against the police station’s electric bill in the amount of $1,000 per year for the first 10 years;  $1,200 per year during years 11 to 15; and $2,400 in years 16 to 25.
One third of the electricity generated would be available to the equity partner in the project, Co-Operative Insurance Companies; and the remaining third of the electricity would be made available to co-op investors as subscribers under a “group net metering” arrangement.
Rich Carpenter, treasurer of the Acorn energy co-op, said this is the first of several solar arrays the group hopes to install in the Addison County area during the next few years. Solar arrays have become more prevalent in Vermont in recent months in wake of state legislation passed in 2009 that requires state utilities to purchase solar energy at a premium. That law was created in order to help in the financing of such projects.
The selectboard on Tuesday not only approved the lease, but also agreed to support Acorn’s application with the Vermont Public Service Board to get the certificate it needs to build the project.
Carpenter said if all goes smoothly, groundbreaking should start by the end of this month.
“We expect to be generating electricity before the end of the year,” Carpenter said.
Town officials praised Acorn for pursuing the plan.
“Thank you for doing this,” said Selectman Victor Nuovo. “It’s a very promising project.”
Board chairman John Tenny added, “It is a very nice placement on public land that would otherwise not be well used.”
In other action on Tuesday, the Middlebury selectboard agreed to hold a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. at the Methodist Church in East Middlebury, to receive comments about work done on the Middlebury River following last month’s flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
The town has drawn criticism from neighbors, state and federal officials after performing work within the river to stabilize it following the flood. Critics have charged the town did not obtain the necessary permission before performing the work, which they allege has disrupted trout habitat and could lead to greater damage downstream during the next flood.
Selectboard members said the meeting will give local residents a chance to voice their feelings, and also lead to a consensus process on how the community should react when faced with future emergency repairs for flooding.
An Army Corps of Engineers representative, among others, has been invited to attend.
“I’d like to see come out of this a sense of agreement on what to do when the next storm hits,” Selectman Nick Artim said.
Tenny said Middlebury is not the only community confronting the post-Irene conundrum of repairs within waterways. He told his colleagues of a road trip he and his wife took on Oct. 9 through some of the flood-ravaged areas of Rochester, Granville, Killington and Brandon.
“I was struck with seeing these miles and miles and miles of scoured streams; active mining of gravel in the streams; banks built up twice as high as the riverside in some places, and I began to think about why we have three city blocks of river in Middlebury that are creating such a focus,” Tenny said. “Somebody needs to explain that to me.”
Selectboard members als learned that a proposal to renovate or replace the town offices at the intersection of College and South Main streets will likely not be put before the voters before March of 2013.
Artim, a member of the Community Center/Town Office Steering Committee, said the group needs to do a complete inventory of the building’s deficiencies and weigh four possible scenarios of what to do with the structure. Those scenarios include doing nothing, doing enough work to button up the building and make it more efficient, renovating and expanding the structure, or replacing it entirely.
Artim said the committee will soon meet with representatives of the Community College of Vermont (CCV) and Middlebury College to gain feedback on a possible project. The committee is courting CCV as a possible anchor tenant of the new building, an arrangement that would generate revenues to help pay for a project. The committee will update the selectboard on progress later this year.
Board members agreed it makes sense to slightly extend the timeframe for a town offices project, in part to allow residents to focus on Middlebury’s current major capital project — a $4.6 million makeover of the community’s two fire stations. That project will be put to voters next March on Town Meeting Day.
“We don’t help by competing with our own proposals,” Tenny said.
Tenny, a builder by trade, encouraged the committee “to be thinking of ways, in bite-sized nuggets, to inform the public of what the challenge is.”
Officials have said the municipal building’s deficiencies include poorly configured space, sub-standard wiring, poor insulation, and an inefficient heating system.
“These buildings have needed help for a while,” Artim said, referring to the municipal building and adjacent gym. “We are approaching a point where we need to do something.”
• Agreed to close the Cross Street Bridge for one hour — from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4 — to use the span as a vantage point from which to view a fireworks display marking Middlebury’s 250th birthday (see related story).
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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