BRATTLEBORO -- Work is under way on Brattleboro's new 2 megawatt solar array and the project could be generating electricity by the end of the summer.
Winstanley Enterprises LLC, the development company that owns the land off of Technology Drive and along Interstate 91, has crews on the site. They are putting posts in the ground and they have started to install some of the more than 8,000 solar panels, which, when they are in place, will generate enough power on a very sunny day to provide about 40 percent of the town's energy needs.
The Vermont Public Service Board in February issued a certificate of public good for the project, which is privately owned and will generate electricity that is fed into the grid.
Winstanely Enterprises Vice President Eric Nelson said the company wanted to use the site for a solar project and applied to Vermont's Sustainably Priced Energy Development, or SPEED, program. The SPEED program guarantees that the developers of sustainable energy projects of up to 2.2 megawatts will have a customer for the power produced and the program also helps with the permitting and development of the project. Nelson said Winstanley was put on a waiting list for the SPEED program, and after five other developers dropped their applications for other projects in the state, Winstanley was given the green light for the Brattleboro project.
"The SPEED program is a great program to participate in. It was so popular that there was a waiting list at first," Nelson said. "Anytime you have a parcel of land you can let it remain fallow or you can try to do something with it. The folks who looked at this said it was a great place for a solar development. It seemed like a good fit for us for a lot of reasons."
Winstanley has owned the approximately 13 acres of land for a number of years, and there have been a few projects eyed for the site.
"A lot of projects and property transactions take twists and turns, and we are always trying to find the best use for any property," Nelson said. "Over time we have looked at different uses and for a variety of reasons those deals were not completed."
Annually, the solar array will provide enough energy for about 600 households
Dan Ingold, of Powersmith Farm, is the project technical director. He designed the massive solar array and has been on hand to watch as the first solar panels were attached to the posts.
Ingold explained that while the electricity generated at the site is going to be fed directly into the grid, the power itself will seek the shortest distance and will be used directly by businesses along Putney Road. Taking into account times when the solar cells are not making electricity at night and on cloudy days, the array will provide Brattleboro with about 9 percent of its total energy needs over the course of a year.
"The state of Vermont has certain renewable power goals they're trying to meet and this is one way to try to meet them," Ingold said. "When people are coming into Vermont on the Interstate, and they see this project, they will know we have our priorities right."
Integrated Solar, a Brattleboro company, is working with REC Solar, a commercial solar installation company from California.
Integrated Solar President and owner Andy Cay said the Brattleboro project is by far the largest project his company has ever taken on, and he said it was especially important for the company to be leading such a large installation so close to the company's headquarters.
"It means a lot to be a part of a project of this size," Cay said. "It's good for our experience, it's good for our resume. It's good for our relationships. It's challenging us and it is a rewarding process."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.