WESTMINSTER — A 1.8 megawatt solar array to power the Vermont Army National Guard facility in Westminster was approved July 22 by the Vermont Public Service Board.
The net-metered electric generation facility is regulated by Vermont statutes, section 219a, which permits an electric generation facility "that serves certain military organizations, including the Vermont National Guard, and is installed on the property of such organizations to be considered a net-metering system if it meets certain further statutory requirements."
Spencer-TGC filed the application with the board on Feb. 17 and the project manager is Peter Thurrell of Soveren in Dummerston.
The project will be located on approximately 17 acres of land on three lots that will need to be merged into one at the town level. The location is a reclaimed gravel pit that was previously permitted under Act 250 and has been permitted for redevelopment as an industrial business park. The photovoltaic array will be composed of approximately 7,560 modules.
The electricity produced by the project will meet approximately 71 percent of the Vermont Army National Guard's annual electricity consumption needs.
The project received a letter of support from Westminster's town manager. The Westminster Select Board expressed its concern that if the project is approved, the town might "lose valuable land for future business, which will decrease (its) tax base long term. ..." because it will be sited in the town's only designated and undeveloped Industrial/Commercial zone.
In support of the Select Board, the Windham Regional Commission noted the project "will consume the remainder of land in the Westminster Business Park, "which could jeopardize future commercial and/or industrial growth in (the) community."
While Zoning Administrator Russell R. Hodgkins expressed similar concerns, he noted that the project "makes sense in the fact that the solar panels will be a good neighbor for the National Guard facility with the active shooting range and military activities that (it) generates."
NextSun, which has a nearby 500kw array, raised concerns about the project's potential impact on system stability and reliability, in particular with respect to the project's interconnection to GMP's distribution system in close proximity to that of NextSun's existing interconnection. NextSun also questioned whether the project failed to meet the criteria for fast tracking.
However, the Department of Public Service noted after changes were made to the project that it was satisfied with the fast track analysis and that the project would not have an adverse impact on system stability and reliability.
The construction of the project will create jobs for approximately 15 full-time employees for an estimated 22 weeks. Construction will also result in local economic activity from fuel purchases, lodging, and meals for the employees working on the project. More than $200,000 worth of materials will be sourced locally for the project.
The project will be fenced in by an eight-foot-high physical barrier fence approved by the Vermont Department of Public Safety, Fire Safety Division. An undisturbed, naturally vegetated riparian buffer zone shall be maintained from the rim of the north and northwest portions of the gravel pit extending outward to the property line.
To meet state requirements for net-metering, project needs to be installed on the property of the user. Spencer has agreed to purchase the lots and rent them back to the ANG for $1 a year for 20 years.
"In effect, through the proposed lease transactions, the National Guard will acquire a leasehold property interest in the lots on which the Project will be installed," noted the board. "A leasehold interest constitutes a legal property interest, which may be partitioned."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.