BRATTLEBORO -- While Vermont’s newly expanded net-metering law encourages more small-scale solar development statewide, it also opens a specific -- and very large -- door for Windham County.
About halfway through the legislation, there is language declaring that "as a pilot project, the Public Service Board shall allow one solar facility or a group of solar facilities to be installed by one or more municipalities on a closed landfill in Windham County and treated as a net-metering system."
The law, which was signed by Gov. Peter Shumlin on Tuesday, also allows such a solar facility to generate up to 5 megawatts of power -- far exceeding the standard 500-kilowatt ceiling for net-metered projects.
What that means is that Windham Solid Waste Management District, which maintains the closed landfill referenced in the bill, can proceed with commissioning a large-scale, privately built solar development that could benefit the district and all of its member towns.
"We’re really excited," said Bob Spencer, the district’s executive director. "The district is already mobilizing to conduct a request for proposals to get as large a project on the landfill as possible."
The idea of placing photovoltaic panels on the district’s capped landfill off Old Ferry Road has been discussed for years. Last year, Spencer said, a development team approached district officials with a proposal and a relatively short timeline for a decision.
"We didn’t have enough time to evaluate it," Spencer said, adding that, given the size constraints on net-metered solar projects, "the district realized it wasn’t going to work right now for us."
That changes with the new net-metering law, into which Windham County state Sen. Peter Galbraith inserted the provision allowing for up to a 5-megawatt solar facility on Windham Solid Waste property.
The provision also says the system can include "not only each participating municipality, but also ... members who are not a municipality." That means "this project is allowed to be the municipality, plus private partners," Galbraith said.
The Townshend-based Democrat said he had visited the Windham Solid Waste site and has remained in contact with backers of a solar project there.
"It was in the back of my mind, and some of the people in Brattleboro have also been in touch with me," Galbraith said.
He added that, with the state making a priority of expanding the successful net-metering program, the timing was right to insert the Windham County-specific language.
Spencer sees several benefits to allowing a developer to build a large-scale solar facility on the former landfill.
First, Windham Solid Waste’s 19 member towns, who will be hit with an assessment increase in the coming fiscal year due to the district’s stagnant recycling-program revenues, could become partners in the solar project and receive credits on their utility bills.
"The first real benefit would be to offer something to our member towns through net-metering contracts," Spencer said. "That’s really our mission -- to serve these communities."
The district itself also could see reduced power bills, he said.
Also, the project’s developer would sign a lease for building on district land.
"It would generate long-term revenue for the district. That has to be figured out," Spencer said.
He said the state supports such projects and has issued guidelines for placing solar facilities on capped landfills. Windham Solid Waste won’t do anything to jeopardize safety or environmental protections at the site, Spencer said.
"The highest priority is to protect the integrity of our landfill cap," he said. "That is our long-term liability."
But Spencer also doesn’t expect a long delay in getting the solar project moving.
"I think we could put together a deal in this calendar year," he said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.