Two new solar arrays sited on Panton farm
PANTON — Two new 500-kilowatt solar arrays are being proposed in Panton, both on land owned by the Vorsteveld Farm.
Green Lantern Group Director of Project Development Sam Carlson met with the Panton selectboard on Oct. 27 to give board members a heads-up on the company’s plans for the proposed arrays, one off Panton Road across from Basin Harbor Road, and one across Jersey Street from the main Vorsteveld barn.
Carlson described Green Lantern as a developer of net-metered solar arrays that finds commercial or nonprofit partners to purchase the net-metering credits available to support such projects.
The company, he said, has already developed arrays in Rutland, Proctor and Ryegate, and is working in other towns, including Brandon.
Carlson said last week that the Panton Road array is on a faster track. He was expecting by the end of last week to send out a required 45-day letter to regulators, town officials and project neighbors announcing the company’s intent to apply to the Public Service Board for a Certificate of Public Good. Green Lantern would need that CPG before going ahead with array construction some time next year.
Carlson said, as was the case in October when he met with the Ferrisburgh selectboard about a proposed array on Vorsteveld Farm land there, Green Lantern’s policy is to sit down with town officials before it takes any official action.
He described what he called productive discussion with selectboard members, who told him they would respond officially during the PSB comment period.
“It is the kind of discussion we like to have with the selectboard. It is upstream, before we’ve entered the permitting process,” Carlson said. “It’s a dialogue. It’s getting their feedback as to what’s important to them. It’s answering questions that are logical questions. It was a good reception. The board said it would evaluate the project when it officially comes in.”
Board member Beth Tarallo said the selectboard appreciated the preliminary meeting, and would listen to feedback from residents before weighing in during the process.
“We listened to what the proposal is and are trying to get a sense of the timeline,” Tarallo said.
Before Green Lantern had been placed on the agenda the selectboard had already agreed to discuss the larger issue of solar arrays in Panton, a decision prompted in part by the recent Green Mountain Power proposal for a 5-megawatt array in the town’s north end, also on Vorsteveld Farm land.
Tarallo said the board wanted to be “thinking about some guidelines about solar arrays in general for our town and our town plan,” and agreed the last week in October to form a committee for that purpose.
Each array, which would generate enough electricity to power between 100 and 120 homes for a year, would also generate, to start with, between $5,000 and $6,000 of annual property tax revenue to Panton, Carlson estimated.
The Panton Road array is planned for what is now an alfalfa field behind homes on the south side of Panton Road. Carlson said he could not answer whether the site was prime farmland, but that the Vorstevelds suggested the spot.
“We started speaking about possible solar sites, this is one that they were willing to consider leasing to us,” Carlson said. “There’s no question there is more value to them in leasing the land to us than growing alfalfa on it.”
The second site, on the east side of Jersey Street, is more problematic for both agriculture and solar power, he said.
“That one is definitely on a slower timeline. Technically it’s a much more difficult site because it’s all ledge and it’s a bit steep,” Carlson said. “Putting solar arrays on ledge with 15-degree pitch is tricky.”
Typically, array posts are driven into the ground and are easily installed and removed. Carlson said Green Lantern would meet with its installation company and evaluate the Jersey Street site, with one possible outcome even being that it is not feasible.
“We have not worked out the technical solution with the racking company,” he said. “I can’t give you a date by which that 45-day notice would go out. We’re still working on what’s the technical solution, and is it economically viable.”
Cabot Creamery is the probable purchaser of the net-metering credits for the Panton Road site, as it is for Green Lantern’s proposed 500kW Ferrisburgh array near the intersection of Basin Harbor and Button Bay roads.
Carlson said in net-metering projects, power companies such as GMP do not pay for the electricity, but rather issue project developers net-metering credits for each kilowatt-hour an array produces. A 500kW array typically produces $165,000 of credits annually, he said, which entities buy from project owners at a discount and use to offset their electricity bills.
“This is a way for Cabot to save money on its electricity costs,” Carlson said. “They buy credits from us at a discount, and then they use those credits to pay down their bill with Green Mountain Power.”
The project also generates Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that companies such as Green Lantern can sell to other entities.
The leases that Green Lantern would sign with the Vorsteveld Farm would call for the company to remove the arrays after 20 years, or if renewed, to replace panels with modern equipment. If the company were to fold, other companies or a bank could choose to operate the arrays. Even if they were abandoned, the arrays would not sit in the ground, Carlson said.
“The decommissioning is all part of the land-lease agreement with the Vorstevelds. We’re responsible for returning the land to its original condition,” Carlson said, noting the worst-case scenario is that the farmers would be left with “$200,000 of scrap metal, and that’s a good day for them.”
Carlson also updated the status of Green Lantern’s proposed Ferrisburgh array. The 45-day letter of intent went out on Monday, Nov. 2, he said, and on Tuesday he said he and the company’s landscaping firm were working on a landscape plan including screening that “we think is a pretty comprehensive plan that we hope the town and the landowners” will find acceptable.
“We are sensitive to the fact that not everyone feels solar arrays are an attractive sign of progress and clean, renewable, Vermont-made energy,” Carlson said.
Green Lantern also learned while meeting with the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission and zoning administrator on Oct. 21 that power lines on the property must run underground. Carlson said the company would accept the extra cost.
“If the power lines must be buried, then the power lines must be buried. We have to abide by that, so we will,” he said. “It’s not a deal-breaker.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].