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Acorn Energy Co-op’s solar project moving forward in Bristol

BRISTOL — Fundraising for a local community-owned solar project in Bristol under development by the Acorn Renewable Energy Co-op of Middlebury is moving forward. The proposed project, Acorn Energy Solar 3, now known as Bristol Community Solar (BCS), will be a 500 kW solar array on the capped former municipal landfill located at 80 Pine St. in Bristol.
This past Friday, March 19, Acorn Energy Co-op received final review of its documentation for the public offering of shares in the project by the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation (DFR). This review and approval by the DFR gives Acorn Energy the green light to begin marketing the Bristol project to Vermont residents with an electric meter in the Green Mountain Power (GMP) service territory. These off-taker/investors will receive the project’s net-metered credits on their GMP bills, and ultimately take ownership of the project.
“If we are successful, we will have local investment, ownership, and management of a solar array developed in cooperation with the host community, and we will have made the most of a brownfields redevelopment opportunity as well. There are multiple winners all around, said Energy Co-op President Benjamin Marks. “We hope that the installed price per watt of the array will also be attractive for prospective participants.”
Initially, participation in BCS will be open to Bristol residents, businesses and organizations, members of the Interfaith Climate Action Network (ICAN), as well as Vermont Interfaith Power and Light (VTIPL), and Acorn Energy Co-op members. This local investment model was facilitated by 2014 changes to the Vermont Small Business Offering Exemption (now generally referred to as Vermont Equity Crowdfunding), which is viewed as one of the nation’s most progressive local investing regulations.
Acorn Energy Co-op, and Aegis Renewable Energy of Waitsfield (Acorn Energy’s contractor), have developed the plan for the approximately $1.8 million Bristol project. The Bristol Community Solar design calls for 1,840 solar panels, 405 watts DC each, which will cover a little over three acres of undulating terrain on the 12-acre capped Bristol landfill site. The panels will be a new bi-facial model, which also generate electricity from light reflected off the ground — a useful feature during Vermont’s snowy winters. At 500 kilowatts AC, BCS will be considerably larger than the Energy Co-op’s two previous 150 kW AC projects in Middlebury and Shoreham.
The Bristol landfill is ideal for solar development since it has good solar exposure from the south and cannot be seen from public streets and neighborhood homes, Acorn says. In addition, this type of “brownfield” site receives favorable treatment from Vermont’s energy permitting and approval agencies. Acorn Energy Co-op applied for a Certificate of Public Good for the project from the Public Utility Commission on Dec. 23, 2020.
The Co-op’s investment model calls for two initial categories of investors in Bristol Community Solar: a single Series A Member, and multiple Series B Members. The Co-operative Insurance Companies of Middlebury will be the Series A investor. The Series A investor will provide around a third of the capital to construct the project and in return will receive federal investment tax credits for their project participation, rather than any electricity bill credits. The company’s participation helps to keep the costs down for the Series B investors.
The remaining equity funding will come from Series B investors (Vermont residents, businesses, churches, and organizations with an electric meter in the GMP service territory) from Bristol and surrounding communities, who will be project participants. These participants will receive net metering dollar credits applied each month to their GMP electric bills based on the amount of electricity produced the previous month for the number of units they have purchased (each unit corresponding to the output of one solar panel).
“We are extremely pleased to have Co-operative Insurance as a major participant in Bristol Community Solar,” says Richard Carpenter, Acorn Energy Co-op’s treasurer. “They played a similar major investment role in our Shoreham project, Acorn Energy Solar 2, as well as our Middlebury project, Acorn Energy Solar One.”
Six years after the Bristol project begins electricity production, the equity structure will “flip” and the individual local investors may take full ownership of the project, making BCS one of a small number of truly local, community-owned net-metered solar projects in the state.
“Acorn Energy Co-op is very excited to be moving ahead with this community-owned solar project developed by Vermonters for Vermont residents,” said Marks. “We believe it will make Bristol more self-sufficient, and will help the State of Vermont to reach its ambitious goal of 90 percent renewables by 2050.”
Informational online meetings for prospective investors are scheduled for the participating groups:
•  Acorn Energy Co-op members, 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30.
•  Residents of Bristol, Bristol businesses and organizations 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31.
•  ICAN/VTIPL, 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 1.
Organized in 2008, Acorn Energy Co-op is a member-owned cooperative serving residents and businesses in Addison, Rutland and Chittenden counties. The Co-op provides education, outreach, products and services, as well as community solar projects that help members make the transition from our present reliance on fossil fuels to greater use of renewables and local solutions.
For more information on Bristol Community Solar email [email protected] or call Mary Mester at 802-385-1911.

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