Shoreham community array comes online

DANIEL COOPERIDER, Interfaith Climate Action Network; Lee Dowgiewicz, Co-op Insurance; Ben Marks, Acorn Energy Co-op board; Peter Lynch, Shoreham selectboard; Edwina Ho, landowner; and Nils Behn of Aegis cut the ribbon of Acorn Energy’s new solar array in Shoreham this past Saturday.

SHOREHAM — After years of delays, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Acorn Energy Solar 2 (AES2), the community solar project developed by the Acorn Renewable Energy Co-op of Middlebury, was held on Saturday, March 14, at 869 Watch Point Road in Shoreham.
In addition to a large number of individual project participants and supporters, the ceremony was attended by representatives of the four main participating groups: Co-operative Insurance Companies of Middlebury, the Town of Shoreham, the Acorn Energy Co-op of Middlebury, and the Addison County Interfaith Climate Action Network (ICAN).
ICAN is a collaborative effort of area faith communities to address matters of climate and the environment. “We are thrilled to be a part of the innovative Acorn Energy Solar 2 project,” says Rev. Daniel Cooperrider, a spokesperson for ICAN. “Working with Acorn Energy, we helped organize seven area faith communities to purchase solar panels, while raising funds to help the Addison County Parent Child Center purchase panels as well. We see the transition to renewable energy as an urgent matter of deep ethical and spiritual concern, and we chose to participate in Acorn Energy Solar 2 to give witness to our interfaith commitments to climate justice.” 
AES2 is leasing the 1.2 acres of land for the 612-panel, group net-metered photovoltaic (PV) array from Shoreham resident Edwina Ho. The fixed, ground mounted array is expected to generate around 249,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year — enough to provide electricity for around 30 to 40 average homes. Aegis Renewable Energy Inc. of Waitsfield is the general contractor for the 150-kilowatt project.
Funding for nearly half of the $612,000 project came from the Co-operative Insurance Companies of Middlebury. In addition, the Acorn Energy Co-op used the Vermont Small Business Offering Exemption (also referred to as Vermont Crowdfunding), to market the project to local Vermont investors for the remainder of the financing needed. These investors will receive the project’s energy credits on their Green Mountain Power (GMP) bills. In addition, the project’s renewable energy credits (RECs) will be transferred to GMP, which is required to retire them. The RECs will help Green Mountain Power meet its statutorily required renewable energy goals.

The innovative financial and legal structure of the project offers many advantages. Co-operative Insurance’s project participation helped keep the cost down for the other investors while keeping federal tax benefits local. Entities such as towns and churches that ordinarily face significant challenges when trying to take advantage of tax-based incentives to build renewable energy projects were able to participate affordably in this project. 
This financial structure also means that the payback period on the participants’ investment is three to five years shorter compared to installing panels at their own homes. What’s more, AES2’s innovative ownership structure means that the participants will be on a path to ultimately own the project after six years, when Co-operative Insurance is able to sell its remaining stake in the company once all of the project’s depreciation and federal investment tax credits have been utilized. This will allow the remaining participants to personally participate in the state’s push towards a renewable energy future.
“This is one of a very small number of real community-owned solar projects in the state,” says Greg Pahl, president of the Acorn Energy Co-op’s board. “With the assistance of Vermont’s innovative Crowdfunding regulations, AES2 has been developed by Vermonters for Vermonters, and we are very pleased to see the project finally producing electricity for local residents of Shoreham and surrounding communities.”

The Acorn Energy Co-op has been working on developing the Shoreham community solar project since 2014. The Energy Co-op originally filed for a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) for the project in November of 2015, but the application, along with applications for dozens of projects around the state by other developers, encountered delays due to the fact that Green Mountain Power had reached its statutory 15-percent renewables cap. Most of these “above the cap” applications, including AES2’s, were placed on a waiting list by the Public Service Board (PSB). 
Seven months later, the AES2 application was eventually “dismissed without prejudice” by the PSB, meaning that the Energy Co-op could resubmit its application at a later date under a new set of rules and regulations, which went into effect in July, 2017. While the new rule made the site location and CPG application process more involved, time-consuming, and expensive, it offered the opportunity to proceed with plans for AES2 on the original Shoreham site.

With the support of the host community, the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and numerous local and area residents in hand, Acorn resubmitted its CPG application to the Public Utility Commission in August, 2017.
After the Energy Co-op filed its new CPG application, the out-of-state landowners who own the undeveloped hay field to the south of the AES2 site indicated that they opposed the project. Several other owners of undeveloped adjacent parcels of land later joined in this opposition. This triggered a lengthy legal and regulatory process. Project opponents asked the PUC for, and were eventually granted, a technical hearing, which took place in September, 2018, before a Hearing Officer of the PUC in Montpelier. 

The Energy Co-op received the Final Order and long-awaited Certificate of Public Good from the full commission on July 26, 2019.
With its CPG in hand, AES2 began project site preparation activities in October 2019. In the following months, actual construction on the solar array moved forward. The array was substantially complete by the end of the first week of March, 2020, and the project received its final inspections and began producing electricity a few days later.
“This ribbon-cutting represents the culmination of many years of planning and hard work,” says Acorn Energy Co-op President Greg Pahl, “and I want to thank everyone who has helped us make this collaborative community project a reality. I especially want to thank the project participants for their incredible patience and ongoing support. We hope that Acorn Energy Solar 2 will inspire other communities and groups around the state to organize locally-owned renewable energy projects of their own.”

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