Four ACSU schools eye solar arrays

CORNWALL — Four Addison Central Supervisory Union schools are considering hosting solar arrays as a means of lowering their respective electricity bills while providing on-site renewable energy lessons for their students.
At issue are potential agreements between All Earth Renewables (AER) and the elementary schools in Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury and Weybridge. The respective directors of those schools are now considering 15-year contracts with AER to install solar trackers of varying sizes on-site or on nearby municipal property.
Each contract involves three entities: The school or municipality, which is providing the land upon which the solar trackers would be placed; AER, which would work with the school to identify locations, coordinate permitting and manage construction and installations of the project; and Green Lantern Development, a group of investors that will finance and own the project.
In return for hosting the solar trackers, participating schools get what amounts to a 5-percent break in the retail rate for their electricity bills, according to AER account manager Caleb Elder. This savings is derived from a portion of the tax benefits and credits that Green Lantern Development will realize as the owner of what will be a net-metered project.
Vermont law defines net metering as measuring the difference between the electricity supplied to a customer and the electricity fed back into the state’s grid by a net metering system during the customer’s billing period, according to Vermont Public Service Board officials. In practice, net metering allows the owners of certain small electric generating systems to receive credit for the electricity produced by those systems, above what the owners consume on the premises.
Schools and their towns are unable to claim the solar tax credits derived from net metering, but Green Lantern Development can. The agreements provide a vehicle through which to pass on some of those benefits to the schools in the form of reduced electricity bills.
The agreement allows the schools to purchase the solar equipment at fair market value in years 7, 10 or 15 of the contract. The host school bears no expense, liability or maintenance responsibilities for the project, according to Elder.
“This is all in the preliminary stages,” Elder said. “If we do the projects, they would happen in 2012.”
Andrew Savage, communications director for AER, said the proposed agreements with the four ACSU schools are similar to one the company has forged with the town of Starksboro and is currently negotiating with the town of Lincoln.
It was during a recent visit with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission that AER officials said they were made aware of ACSU communities that might be interested in solar projects. This in turn allows the ACSU central office to evaluate all of the contracts at once.
“It is the first time we have been talking to four schools (in the same district) simultaneously,” Savage said.
Denise Goodnow, principal of Cornwall’s Bingham Elementary School, said the board has heard AER’s presentation and is currently considering its next step. She said there is town-owned land adjacent to the school (near where buses are parked) that could potentially host the proposed 10 solar trackers.
“For us, there is an opportunity here for some curricular tie-ins,” Goodnow said. Students, she noted, would be able to track data on how much power the trackers are capturing and how much of it is flowing into the state’s electricity grid.
Salisbury Planning Commission member Deb Brighton said her community once looked into the feasibility of putting solar panels on its school roof. It proved not financially doable, according to Brighton. So Salisbury is looking carefully at AER’s proposal, which would involve placement of eight to 10 solar trackers on a municipal property off Holman Road.
“It is in the hands of the school board and the selectboard,” Brighton said. “The ACSU Business Manager (Laura Nassau) is looking into it, making sure there is nothing that could pop up and surprise us afterward.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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