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Middlebury solar purchase up for vote

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents will go to the polls on Tuesday, Aug. 31, to cast ballots on a proposal to invest in a Bristol-based solar project to the tune of $323,000.

On the same ballot Middlebury voters will be asked to endorse the financial terms of the town of Ripton’s exit from the Addison Central School District. The shire town joins five other ACSD towns in casting ballots on a proposed deal that will ensure Ripton can leave the district not owing, or being owed, any money (See separate story here).

SOLAR BOND VOTE

Middlebury Energy Committee last month recommended the town buy into the 500-kilowatt Bristol Community Solar (BCS) project through a 25-year bond. The Acorn Energy Co-op is the nonprofit spearheading a solar array that will be built at the site of the former Bristol landfill off Pine Street.

Acorn Energy officials told the Middlebury selectboard last month the town’s proposed $323,000 investment in BCS could save the municipality up to $180,000 in electricity costs over the 25-year life of the bond — that is savings after debt service on the bond is paid off via lower energy costs. Those savings will fully offset bond payments, according to Acorn.

Middlebury is being guaranteed at least 15% of BCS’s 1,694 panels (which will generate 440 watts each).

Acorn has been looking for individuals, businesses and municipalities to buy into the $1.8 million project, which will ultimately be owned (after six years) by the investors, who will in turn reap the benefits of the array’s energy production. Investors will receive monthly credits on their Green Mountain Power electricity bills in proportion to their project ownership. The project will be part of a net metering program that allows individuals or groups to connect small-scale, renewable energy systems to the grid and receive credit on their electric bills for the power those systems generate.

The $323,000 bond, proponents argue, won’t cost Middlebury taxpayers anything because the financial windfall from the cheaper power both pay down debt and result in substantial savings to the municipal power bills.

The Middlebury selectboard last month voted 5-1, with Selectman Nick Artim opposed, to warn the solar bond for Aug. 31. Artim voiced concern that the board was being asked to make a quick decision about a long-term commitment, investors won’t own the array for the first six years, and better renewable energy technology could emerge while Middlebury is locked into a 25-year commitment with BCS.

But a majority of the board said the BCS plan would give taxpayers tangible long-term savings while reducing the community’s carbon footprint.

Acorn officials are hoping for a positive vote on Aug. 31.

“The Acorn Renewable Energy Co-op is excited at the prospect of Middlebury’s involvement in this project,” said Co-op President Ben Marks. “We hope that Middlebury voters approve the bond issue and join the town of Weybridge and over 100 other Vermonters and Vermont businesses in owning a part of Vermont’s solar future.”

Middlebury will be also be joining five other ACSD towns in casting ballots on a proposed deal that will ensure Ripton can leave the district not owing, or being owed, any money.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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