Panton, Green Mountain Power agree on biggest local solar farm

PANTON — Late last week, Panton officials and Green Mountain Power were closing in on an agreement on how the town would benefit from GMP’s proposed $11 million, 4.99-megawatt solar farm off Panton Road not far from Panton Town Hall, and how GMP would install landscape screening.
Town and GMP officials met on Thursday evening, and Selectman John Viskup said on Friday morning that he was hopeful a memorandum of understanding (MOU) could be signed later that afternoon.
That MOU will spell out details of the arrangement by which Panton town buildings would receive battery backup power from the “Panton Solar Project” that would be built on 40 acres owned by the Vorsteveld Farm near the Ferrisburgh town line.
It will also specify landscape screening for the roughly 21,000 nine-foot-high solar trackers that would be arranged in 280 rows covering most of the 40 acres, which is part of a larger parcel that is north of Panton Road, east of Jersey Street and west of Slang Creek.
Because the Panton selectboard discussed the MOU in closed-door sessions (on Feb. 23, March 3 for two hours, and this past Tuesday as well as Thursday night), Viskup said he could not comment on any specifics of the agreement until it was signed.
“If a memorandum is signed later today, it will become public and all the details will be there,” Viskup said.
GMP spokesperson Kristin Carlson on Thursday said she was confident an agreement would be reached on a project that will also provide about $44,000 a year in property taxes to Panton.
“From our perspective we’re really excited about Panton,” Carlson said. “We think it will move forward and be a really great project that will add battery storage that can provide backup power for the town offices.”
Carlson described a collaborative process with Panton officials for a project for which, if it receives a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board, construction could begin this summer and be finished late in 2017.
“It’s been really exciting to work with Panton, to work with the leaders in the community there,” she said. “They’re excited about what this innovative project can do for the community. We’re excited about what it can provide for the community. Working together on this I think we’re going to get to a great outcome.”
Carlson added that GMP was “totally in agreement with the town on the screening requests.”
In general, Viskup agreed the selectboard is pleased to be ready to move forward.
“I guess I can say that we are pretty much in agreement in our excitement,” he said.
Before entering into negotiations, the selectboard held a public meeting on the GMP proposal for an array that would be, if it is installed, one of the company’s and the state’s largest. Viskup said feedback from Panton residents was largely positive, with some concerns about landscaping.
“It was generally favorable from the people in town,” he said. “That was the take of all us from the meeting.”
According to a September letter GMP sent to Panton officials, the Public Service Board and project neighbors, the Panton Solar Project would generate about 9.2 million kilowatts per year, enough power for more than 1,200 homes.
The power would be sent directly into the larger grid, while GMP said the project would also include the “micro grid” with battery storage that would provide emergency power to Panton town buildings during a wider outage.
Last fall, Carlson said the Panton Solar Project is one of several solar ventures that GMP is looking at statewide. Only another 4.99MW project in Hartford would match its scale, while another proposal in Williston (4.7MW) would approach it in scope. One GMP solar project with micro-grid battery storage, the 2.2MW Stafford Solar Farm in Rutland, is complete.
Carlson said GMP would like to add to its inventory of solar projects with micro grids, especially given that the company expects more damaging storms and resulting power outages due to climate change.
GMP’s September letter states the array will produce power at a cost that “is projected to be among the lowest-priced solar options presently available to GMP, and lower than most or all solar sources that have been developed to date.”
GMP officials said last fall the land is ideal because it is flat, close to existing transmission lines, and not near homes. Landowner Hans Vorsteveld told the selectboard it is not prime agricultural land.
GMP’s letter estimated the project’s productive life would range from 25 to 35 years, and the company will remove the panels and restore the site when the array is no longer useful.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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