Middlebury signs on for more solar power

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury has agreed to become a consumer of a new, 150-kilowatt solar project that is being planned by the Addison County Relocalization Network (Acorn) Renewable Energy Co-op.
Under terms of a letter of intent signed with the co-op, Middlebury would be the single consumer of the 650-panel array’s electricity production and would receive an estimated $1,500 to $2,000 annually in solar generation rebates from the project. Representatives of Acorn have identified two potential Addison County sites for the solar array, and are expected to soon confirm the specific location.
This would become the second Acorn-led solar array to feature Middlebury as a partner. It was two-and-a-half years ago that Acorn successfully advanced an initial 650-panel array, located on municipal land behind the Middlebury Police Department headquarters off Lucius Shaw Lane. The net metering project is generating enough electricity to power 30 average-sized homes. The town of Middlebury is leasing the land to the Acorn Energy Co-op for $1 per year for 25 years. In return, the town is getting one-third of the electricity for a 10-year period, along with an annual refund of $1,000 that will eventually escalate to $2,400.
Acorn Energy is a consumer-owned, Middlebury-based energy cooperative serving the 23 towns of Addison County as well as Rutland and Chittenden counties. Its consumer members democratically control the co-op, which exists to meet their energy needs and the needs of those communities in which they reside. The co-op has conducted periodic offerings of wood pellets, solar hot water, residential solar photovoltaic, co-climate heat pumps and solar power arrays.
Acorn Energy also recently helped facilitate a 500-panel solar project on a one-acre parcel owned by Misty Knoll Farm off Town Hill Road in New Haven. The Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op will use the electricity generated by the 150 kW photovoltaic array, and both the food co-op and Misty Knoll will receive an annual payment as compensation for their roles as “off-taker” and site provider. That array should be generating electricity later this summer, according to Acorn Energy Co-op Treasurer Rich Carpenter.
“We are trying to ramp up the number of installations that we do throughout the county,” Carpenter said. “We have identified several potential sites, and have two that have signed letters of intent to move forward.”
It is with at least one of these two sites that Acorn is seeking to forge an agreement for the latest solar array project. Once constructed, the electricity would flow to a meter on town property. The credit for all of the electricity produced would go to the town, and the town would return a substantial portion of that power to the project developer, the limited liability corporation, or LLC, that will own the array, according to Carpenter.
“The net-net would be somewhere in the order of $1,500 to $2,000 to the town each year,” Carpenter said. “There is absolutely no work required of the town and there is no expense for the town. It (involves) entering into a 25-year arrangement.”
Acorn, Carpenter explained, will serve as a facilitator in bringing together the various players in the project.
“Our goal is to do this many times over the coming year in the county,” he said.
Acorn officials expect to identify the array site before the end of this month. And Carpenter noted it is in the parties’ best interests to finalize a contract before the end of the year, as state incentives for creating solar projects will become less attractive. He added winter conditions also make it less hospitable for construction of solar projects.
Middlebury selectboard members have endorsed the agreement, after being assured of the longevity (at least 25 years) of the array and being told that the solar infrastructure would be removed after it had outlived its usefulness.
“If mutually agreed, these relationships can continue beyond 25 years, but if not, the array would be removed from the site,” Carpenter said. The LLC that owns the array would be responsible for removal of the array.
Middlebury’s letter of intent with Acorn will not preclude it from pursuing other solar project options during the proposal preparation period. Middlebury will continue to plan two other projects already under consideration for its recreation park and new town offices building.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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