Top stories of 2014: #6 — Solar arrays take off, but not everyone is happy

For some it seemed that 2014 was the year that the predominant crop springing up in Addison County fields was solar arrays. The year saw the approval and development of numerous solar energy projects in Addison County, including Certificates of Public Good awarded to 26 projects by the Public Service Board, the largest number of projects of any county in the state. 
As of Dec. 1, the Public Service Board has issued Certificates of Public Good to 138 solar projects across the state, ranging from small rooftop units to multi-acre solar arrays. Locally, New Haven saw the most projects given state approval with six, followed by three each in Middlebury, Monkton and Orwell; two in Waltham; and one each in Addison, Vergennes, Bristol, Bridport, Ferrisburgh, Whiting, Ripton, Salisbury and Shoreham. The figures don’t include residential-size projects of less than 15 kilowatts. The state received 917 applications for net metering projects through October, on pace to break last year’s total of 1,027 applications.
In August, Gov. Peter Shumlin cut the ribbon on a 500kW array, the first array of its size in the state. It is located on 3.3 acres on Middlebury’s South Ridge. Middlebury College signed onto the project as the net metering partner, meaning electricity generated will offset the college’s own electrical requirements. It will be a component of the college’s attempt to be carbon neutral by 2016.
In October, SunCommon of Waterbury cut the ribbon on a 666-panel solar array off Route 7 at the top of Woodman Hill in Waltham; it marked the start of the largest community solar program in the state. The company plans to develop enough arrays around the state over the next two years to provide electricity for 2,000 Vermonters. Each of SunCommon’s arrays will occupy one acre and have the capacity to generate 150 kilowatts, enough energy to power 30 homes annually.
Late in 2014 the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services said it is planning to seek approval for a 500-kilowatt solar farm on state-owned land in Vergennes. The project would, if approved, feed power into the local grid on a net-metered basis. The annual expected output of 750,000kW would be dedicated to a state-owned office building in Montpelier.
Solar power is not just a growing part of the visual landscape, it is a growing part of the commercial landscape. 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. At the South Ridge solar array unveiling Shumlin said, “This project is another example of economic benefit, money in Vermonters’ pockets, jobs and economic expansion. When we do these jobs, these energy projects don’t get exported to India or China, these are jobs that are right here.”
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, Act 99 raised the state’s net metering cap from 4 percent of a utility’s peak load to 15 percent.
Addison County and the greater Champlain Valley have become attractive for solar arrays due to open terrain and access to three-phase power via the Velco power line. However residents in some Addison County towns have raised concerns about the visual aesthetics of the arrays in a largely agricultural landscape. Some homeowners near a proposed solar array near the Basin Harbor Club in Ferrisburgh are fighting the array based in part on aesthetics.
Opponents to the way solar arrays are currently sited also don’t like the fact that because power generation is overseen by the Public Service Board, town and state development rules to not apply when it comes to solar arrays. In addition, some towns are looking to calculate what sort of tax revenue the arrays will bring in. Plus, towns such as New Haven have raised concerns about the state’s policy not to require decommissioning funds for smaller solar arrays.
On Oct. 21, the New Haven selectboard voted to oppose two proposed solar projects within its borders and to participate in Public Service Board proceedings for all future applications for solar arrays.
In December, the state rejected an application to build a 150kW solar array at the Residence at Otter Creek, the retirement community off Middle Road in Middlebury. Regulators said it wasn’t distinct from the 500kW array commissioned nearby. And SunCommon that month also withdrew its application for a 150kW array in New Haven, in part due to community opposition.
Late in the year the Public Service Board said it would propose new clean energy policies to the Legislature in 2015.

Share this story:

More News
Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Op/Ed Uncategorized

Hector Vila: The boundaries of education

There is a wide boundary between the teacher and the student, found most profoundly in col … (read more)

Naylor & Breen Uncategorized

Naylor & Breen Request for Proposals

Naylor and Breen 042524 2×4.5 OCCC RFP

Share this story: