Panton, Green Mtn. Power cooperating on efficiency plan

PANTON — While Green Mountain Power waits for the Public Service Board to approve a huge solar array in Panton, GMP officials and the town selectboard have been working on details of not only a company pledge to Panton to upgrade town buildings, but also a larger effort to make energy-efficiency improvements available to Panton farms, businesses and homes.
As part of a March memorandum of understanding, or MOU, Green Mountain Power said if Panton agreed to host the 40-acre array it would create a micro-grid that would provide battery back-up power to town buildings in case of a power outage, help the town make its buildings more energy-efficient, and either give the town $15,000 or buy and give to the town a small parcel of leased land now used as a town park.
Now, GMP and town officials are talking about what could be a community-wide energy-efficiency effort GMP would sponsor and arrange for Efficiency Vermont to help operate.
Officials on both sides said discussions, which included an April 28 selectboard meeting attended by representatives from Efficiency Vermont and GMP, are preliminary, and the final details of the effort will be determined by community input.
But as well as making conventional efficiency upgrades, the end game could even go as far as making Tesla Powerwall batteries available to homeowners to provide backup power in the event of outages, according to GMP spokesperson Kristin Carlson.
“We’re really excited about this idea,” Carlson said. “What could happen in Panton could serve as a model of what could happen in other communities.”
Panton Selectboard Chairwoman Beth Tarallo said that at the very least GMP has already pledged to install an electric car charging station and solar streetlights at the town’s new park-and-ride lot across from the town hall, as well as to make the needed upgrades to the town buildings and other items described in the MOU.
“We’re very excited,” Tarallo said. “This is a great way for us to keep working on our town hall and improving it and improving the weatherization as well. It dovetails nicely.”
The rest of the effort will be designed with feedback from residents; a forum will be scheduled after GMP, Efficiency Vermont and the selectboard meet to iron out details.
Tarallo believes meetings could produce a program that would allow homes, farms and businesses to save energy and money.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting opportunity for people if they want to be involved and they want to see energy improvements in their homes and businesses,” she said. “Personally, I’m excited about it. And the board is looking forward to meeting with Efficiency Vermont and GMP more to see how we can engage people locally.”
First, Green Mountain Power needs approval for its solar array. According to Carlson, GMP expects that sometime in the next two months the Public Service Board will issue a Certificate of Public Good, or CPG, for its 4.99-megawatt solar array proposed for part of a larger parcel owned by the Vorsteveld Farm. That tract lies north of Panton Road, east of Jersey Street and west of Slang Creek.
The proposed array, which GMP calls the Panton Solar Project, would consist of about 21,000 nine-foot-high solar trackers arranged in 280 rows. It would generate about 9.2 million kilowatts per year, enough power for more than 1,200 homes. It will be Addison County’s largest when it is built, and one of the largest in Vermont.
Carlson said all hearings have been held and the comment period is closed, with no opposition expressed. Once the company has its CPG, construction can start and could be completed before 2017.
The energy efficiency process in Panton will run along with it. There is no set timetable yet for an effort that Tarallo called “separate from the MOU,” and one that will only be as extensive as residents want it to be.
“We’re going to meet with GMP and Efficiency Vermont a little bit more and then see what makes sense in terms of how we can best engage people in a community conversation, so that GMP and Efficiency Vermont can hear what concerns and questions residents and commercial folks in Panton have, and what would make sense for them,” Tarallo said.
Exactly what things could look like are a little hard to pin down at this point, but Carlson said the Tesla batteries could be in play as well as the energy-saving retrofits, upgrades and conservation measures in which GMP and Efficiency Vermont specialize.
“With the home energy makeovers, what we’ve done so far is really focused on saving people money and increasing comfort,” Carlson said. “Down the road there are a lot of options, and I’m not really sure this will or will not be a part of it, but there are some really exciting options with respect to the (Tesla) Powerwall that if customers are interested they can have a battery for their home.”
Carlson said GMP would eventually like to create more local projects and local backup systems such as those being discussed in Panton.
“Really what we’re about is transforming the old antiquated system, the big bulk grid where you transport the power from far away, to one where it increases the community’s resilience,” she said.
But exactly how what Carlson called “a community transformation around energy” proceeds depends on how Panton and its business and residents want to move forward when they learn more from their selectboard and from GMP and Efficiency Vermont.
“This is really just the beginning of the conversation,” she said. “Anything we do is really guided by what does the community want to see happen, and what do the residents want to see happen. And what’s really exciting about Panton is given the size we can really deeply engage with the customers and really figure out how best to meet their needs, and that will be instrumental in anything we do.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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