Lincoln looks into solar project

LINCOLN — The town of Lincoln last week drew one step closer to funding a 60-kilowatt solar installation with taxpayer dollars.
On Monday, Oct. 24, the selectboard and about 40 residents gathered at Lincoln’s Burnham Hall to discuss a proposal with the Williston-based company AllEarth Renewables.
What did they think?
“Among those assembled, there was unanimous support for the project,” said town moderator Will Sipsey.
The town is looking to install photovoltaic collectors on 12 to 14 trackers — depending on the space available after landscaping — that follow the sun using a global positioning system. From the prospective location on the southwest side of the town shed, the solar panels could generate 80,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, said selectboard Chair Barbara Rainville. That solar power would then be used to offset energy consumed by Lincoln Community School, Burnham Hall, the town offices, the town library and the firehouse.
The main reservation expressed by residents at the hearing was whether the project would make economic sense, said Sipsey.
According to AllEarth’s Caleb Elder, this is how the project costs would break down:
•  The town would pay $1,000 up front to lease the trackers for five years. If it decides to purchase the trackers at the end of five years, this money would be refunded.
•  For every kilowatt-hour produced, the town would pay AllEarth a 19-cent service fee, which is the same deal Starksboro received a year ago when Robinson Elementary School and the town decided to install a combined 25 solar trackers.
•  For every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced, the town would also receive an incentive from its utility, Central Vermont Public Service, for 19.386 cents, which is a 0.386-cent incentive when AllEarth’s 19-cent service fee is factored in.
According to CVPS spokeswoman Christine Rivers, “a 6-cent premium is applied for all kilowatt-hours output.” Since the town pays 13.386 cents per kilowatt-hours that it uses, the utility incentive for producing solar is 19.386 cents.
The town would still have to pay utility rates for its energy consumption, but it would generate 0.386 cents for every kilowatt-hour of electricity its trackers produce. If the trackers produce 80,000 kilowatt-hours per year, the project would pay itself off by the end of its fourth year and generate more than $500 in revenue for the town after that.
Rep. Mike Fisher, D-Lincoln, supports the project and views it as a wise investment.
“The (Power Purchase Agreement) with AllEarth … gives Lincoln the opportunity to take some responsibility for our electricity use with very low risk and very low expense,” he said. “There’s also an opportunity for us to have some real savings for … (powering) our school and public buildings into the future.”
When the town’s contract expires, the town would have an opportunity to buy the trackers at 30 percent of their original price or renew another five-year rate-adjusted agreement. When that second agreement expires the town could buy the panels at roughly 20 percent of their original price. If the town owned the trackers, the potential for long-term savings is much higher, but so is the upfront cost.
No contract has yet been signed and Rainville said townspeople will have an opportunity at some point in the next two months to vote on the trackers.
 If voters approve the solar installation, Rainville said, the town could be producing power from the sun by the New Year.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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