Saturday December 8, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- The town is going to look into developing a 500-kilowatt solar project that could eventually supply about 25 percent of its electric needs.

The Selectboard, at its Tuesday night meeting, agreed to send out a request for proposal whereby Brattleboro would agree to work with a developer and purchase the power for 20 years at a fixed rate which would be lower than what the town pays Green Mountain Power.

The developer would bankroll and manage the system, and maintain it, with Brattleboro retaining an option to buy the equipment at the end of the 20-year contract.

The Brattleboro Energy Committee has been working on the project for a few months, and committee Chairman Lester Humphreys said Tuesday’s night marked an important turning point in advancing the idea forward.

"This is a long-term project and we are glad we were able to make this progress," said Humphreys.

According to Humphreys, the Energy Committee already has three developers who are interested in submitting an RFP.

The Energy Committee, along with the Planning Department and the Town Manager’s office, hope to work together in the coming weeks to get the RFP out.

Humphreys said the developers want to be ready as soon as the spring comes and he said the solar project could be producing green electricity as early as late in 2013.

"They want to hit the ground running in the spring," he said. "The vendors have come to us and they are very interested in working with the town on this."

The 500-kilowatt solar farm could be built anywhere in the state where Green Mountain Power would be able to access the photovoltaic system.

Humphreys said Vermont permitting rules make it easier for developers to apply for systems of up to 500 kw.

Larger systems, he said, require more agreements.

Humphreys said developers are attracted to working with municipalities that have good credit and which will be around to purchase the electricity into the future.

Humphreys cautioned that the Selectboard does not have to accept any of the proposals that eventually come in.

At least four other Vermont towns; Hinesburg, Starksboro, Middlebury and Hartford, have similar projects or are investigating a solar electricity agreement.

Members of the Energy Committee spoke with municipal officials in those towns and also visited the solar site in Greenfield, Mass.

At the Tuesday night meeting the Selectboard members seemed receptive to the plan, and ultimately unanimously approved the proposal.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com.