Solar array advances net metering in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Last Wednesday was a good day for sun. For the fourth stop of his annual Summer Solar Tour (which so far have all recorded sunny weather), Gov. Peter Shumlin cut the ribbon on a 500-kilowatt solar array — the first array of its size in the state dedicated to providing electricity through a net metering plan.
Located on 3.3 acres in Middlebury’s South Ridge neighborhood, just south of the Lodge at Otter Creek and bordered by farmland, the south-facing, crystalline panels received permits and were installed last year. The project was developed by Charlie Kireker of Twin Birches Ltd. with financing from the National Bank of Middlebury. Encore Redevelopment of Burlington helped manage the project. Construction was completed in December of 2013.
After cutting a ribbon with a pair of extra large scissors, Shumlin praised the project as an example of Vermont’s solar prowess.
“There is no more important obligation that we have to the future of this planet, to our kids and our grandkids, than showing the rest of the country how to get it right, how to get off of oil and move to renewables as quickly as we know how,” he said. “This 500-kilowatt project is a piece of the difference that Vermont is making to ensure that we have literally done our part in finding green, clean ways to power our future.”
With 46 solar companies and 1,300 jobs in the installation, sales and distribution, and manufacturing areas of solar technology, Vermont leads the country in most solar jobs per capita this year, according to the Solar Foundation, a national solar advocacy group. The South Ridge project used the service and consultation of 18 Vermont companies including G. Stone Commercial, Lanpher Construction, SD Ireland Concrete, Spafford and Sons, Short Surveying, Middlebury Fencing, and others.
Shumlin also took the opportunity to indicate the economic impacts of energy efficiency developments.
“This project is another example of economic benefit, money in Vermonters’ pockets, jobs and economic expansion,” he said. “When we do these jobs, these energy projects don’t get exported to India or China, these are jobs that are right here.”
Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz also spoke at the ceremony. As the net metering partner for the project, the college intends to offset the electricity it buys from the power grid by using power generated by the array, a component of the college’s attempt to be carbon neutral by 2016. While Liebowitz said signing onto the project was “an easy call,” he credited the school’s students for pushing the college to support this project.
“The truth is, most of the initiatives of this sort, including Carbon Neutrality 2016, came from our students,” he said. “It continues to come from our students and I think that reflects in many ways on where the future is and what future generations are considering most important.”
Vermont currently has 3,600 net metering projects. They allow Vermonters to generate electricity using a renewable source — typically solar — for their own use, and then sell any additional power to a commercial utility to distribute on the grid to other consumers. As the net metering partner for the project, Middlebury College will sell power not consumed back into the grid.
The state’s interest in net metering has increased in the past two years. In 2012, the Legislature doubled the maximum capacity of net metering projects from 250kW to 500kW. This past spring, lawmakers passed Act 99, which raised the state’s net metering cap from 4 percent of a utility’s peak load to 15 percent, meaning Middlebury College, as the net metering partner, can sell 15 percent of the utility’s peak demand in 1996 or the most recent calendar year (whichever is higher) back into the grid.
After final modifications last week, the array is now functioning at full capacity and has been exceeding target production, producing 386 kilowatts through July. The array is expected to generate 725,000 kilowatt hours in a year.
Unlike states like California, Arizona and Colorado, where utility companies and citizens have clashed over net metering, the expansion of distributed, customer-owned electricity generation passed with support not only from the Legislature but also from the state’s utilities, a relationship both Shumlin and Kireker commented on Wednesday.
“Not many governors can say that their largest utility is leading the way in helping us move to a greener, cleaner and more efficient energy future and Green Mountain Power is being as innovative as anyone not only in Vermont but in America,” Shumlin said.
Kireker was equally effuse.
“When I go to other places in the country, other people say, ‘Our utility does everything it can to slow down solar,’” he said. “We have a utility here that does the opposite. That’s great leadership and a great example ”

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