Friday March 29, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Town School Board has agreed to take part in a community solar project that will provide renewable solar energy for all of the district's buildings.

Green Street, Oak Grove and Academy schools will all be served by the agreement, which could save the district up to $13,000 annually.

The school board signed a solar net metering credit purchase agreement with Southern Vermont Renewable Energy, or Soveren, a Westminster-based solar installation company.

Soveren is developing the 500-kw solar farm in Westminster with the help of third party financing.

The school district will not invest any money in the development of the solar farm.

The Westminster panels will generate the electricity and send it into the Green Mountain Power grid. Meters on the schools will tracks the electricity used in the buildings, and any excess power generated in Westminster will offset the district's bills.

Federal and state tax incentives that are available to developers, but can not be used by the school district since it is a tax exempt entity, will go toward the project and will further reduce the district's energy bills. By signing those credits over to the investors the school will save about 10 percent on its energy bills.

Brattleboro Town School Board member David Schoales said the district was looking at installing solar panels on the buildings, but then Soveren recommended that the district investigate the net metering agreement.

"It took the attorneys about four months to figure this all out," he said. "It's uncharted territory, but there is no liability on the school's part. It's going to create jobs and give the schools access to sustainable power."

Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said that while the mechanisms have been in place for a while to support a deal like the one the Brattleboro schools have entered, more communities, municipalities and school districts are trying to put together the deals to make large solar power projects happen.

"More and more people are figuring out how to do projects like this," she said. "There are a lot of conversations going on around the state to do deals like this."

Soveren Project Manager Josh Hilsdon said the company is still working on the financing, permitting and land purchase, but he said having the Brattleboro School Board sign on was a big step in working toward getting the solar panels on line.

The school district represents a reliable, steady consumer for the electricity, and the school district is also a good customer for the power in that it is established and pays its bills on time.

Soveren hopes to have its permits in place in the next six months and the panels could be up and generating power by the end of the year.

"This works. It is a good way of making a project like this happen," he said. "It's a win-win for everybody. I think you are going to be hearing a lot more about projects like this in the future."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer