BRATTLEBORO >> The Windham Solid Waste Management District is moving ahead with what could eventually be the largest solar power project in the state.
WSWMD members voted unanimously Thursday to choose Pristine Sun, a California-based solar energy management company, to finance, build and manage what could be a 5 megawatt solar project over the capped landfill at the district headquarters off of Old Ferry Road.
WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer said the company still has to finalize the project dimensions by analyzing the approximately 25-acre site in Brattleboro and figuring out how many solar panels can be installed and how much energy ultimately can be produced.
The solar panels will be installed on top of the capped landfill that WSWMD operated from 1982 to 1995.
"This deal utilizes land that has no value to us right now," Spencer said. "It's unique from a national perspective and it would be the largest solar project in Vermont right now."
Spencer said engineers are reasonably certain that at least 4 MW can be produced on the site, and it is possible that up to 5 MW could be generated at the massive site, which will be more than twice the size of the Winstanley solar project recently completed alongside Interstate 91 in Brattleboro.
The Winstanley project includes more than 8,000 solar panels.
"We attracted national attention from the proposal," Spencer said. "It's a very big first step for what will bring long-term benefits to the district."
Spencer said negotiations with Pristine Sun have only just started, but generally the company will lease the land over the capped landfill and pay the district a monthly fee.
Pristine Sun will finance and own the solar equipment and collect the income on the energy produced by the solar array.
Under terms of the preliminary agreement the 19 municipalities that are members of WSWMD will be able to purchase a portion of the electricity produced at the site from Green Mountain Power at a reduced rate, saving the towns thousands of dollars each year, Spencer said. If the site can support enough solar panels for the full 5 MW then Pristine Sun will pay the district $112,500 a year for 20 years.
Spencer said the district could see an additional $2.2 million in income over 20 years if the deal is finalized.
"The district will still have financial challenges, and this will not save us, but it does provide a long-term source of cash flow," Spencer said. "It will help with our long-term planning and provide value to the towns that are members of the district."
The towns, too, could save up to 25 percent of their energy costs for the next 20 years.
Spencer stressed that final negotiations with Pristine Sun might take up to a month. The terms could change slightly, and there is a possibility that the deal could fall through. Spencer said WSWMD would move on to one of the other interested companies if the district is not able to come to terms with Pristine Sun.
Pristine Sun is working with Integrated Solar, a Brattleboro company, on the project. Integrated Solar will install the solar panels.
Representatives from 14 of the 19 member towns were at Thursday night's WSWMD meeting. The vote was taken after the district held a nationwide search for a company to spearhead the project.
WSWMD received 11 proposals and a committee made up of district representatives and Brattleboro officials including Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland and Energy Coordinator Paul Cameron interviewed five firms. Two finalists made their pitch to the full district board.
The WSWMD solar array will be the largest net metered project in the country, according to Spencer. Vermont has one of the nation's most aggressive net-meter laws, which allow multiple businesses, municipalities and individuals to purchase power directly from specific solar projects.
Once the agreement with Pristine Sun is hammered out the company will seek a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board and work could start in the late summer or fall. Spencer said Pristine Sun will have to have the project generating electricity before the end of 2016 to take advantage of federal tax credits that expire at the end of that year.
"The revenue and electricity savings are significant and will benefit the district for a long time," Spencer said.