BRATTLEBORO -- More than 80 percent of the electricity produced by a Westminster solar project that was recently approved by the Vermont Public Service Board is intended for use in Brattleboro town buildings.
Westminster Dukeshire Solar will produce 500 kilowatts of electricity and will consist of 19 rows of ground-mounted racks holding approximately 2,200 photovoltaic modules.
"Just this one project represent 65 percent of the electric energy we purchase, excluding street lights," said Patrick Moreland, Brattleboro's interim town manager. Street lights are a separate contract negotiated with the power company, he explained.
Moreland said the town of Brattleboro signed a contract with Green Lantern Development in June 2013 to purchase the electricity produced by the project.
"It's been quite a challenge to have a site make its way all the way through the permitting process, but now all the ducks are lined up and we are ready to move forward," he said.
The contract to purchase electricity not only helps to fulfill the town's goal of switching to renewable sources of energy, said Moreland, but also saves the town money.
"The net result will be that we will be able to purchase electricity at roughly three-quarters of market price."
The 2.9-acre project will be in a hayfield owned by Robert Dukeshire along Route 5 in Westminster. In addition to the solar panels, there will be an 18-by-14-foot building on the site. The project is set back from the road and will be partially screened by existing buildings, though it will be visible to passing motorists for approximately one-sixth of a mile, with intermittent visibility for about one-third of a mile.
Luke Shullenberger, a managing partner of Green Lantern Development, said Brattleboro will get 85 percent of the electricity produced by the project and the town of Putney will get the remainder. If the power from the project was directed toward home usage, it would supply between 150 and 160 homes, he said.
"This is environmental economic development at its finest," said Shullenberger. "The public sector benefits, it employs Vermonters, it creates green jobs and it keeps energy dollars circulating in the local economy."
Green Lantern Development is a project development and financing company based in Waterbury.
"Our particular niche is community net-metered solar," he said. "We work primarily with municipalities, schools and the public sector throughout Vermont."
Because such entities are non-profit, non-taxpaying organizations, they are ineligible for the tax credits that many solar projects receive, said Shullenberger.
"We bring in third-party financing partners who receive the tax credits. We finance, own and operate the system and we work with schools and the public sector who participate as members of a net-metered group. They get solar power and a utilities savings with nothing out of pocket."
Shullenberger said a few more details need to be ironed out, but they hope the eight-to-10 week construction process gets under way sometime in August.
Green Lantern Development is working with Integrated Solar, of Brattleboro, and groSolar, of White River Junction, on the Westminster project. Last year, Green Lantern worked with Integrated Solar to install a roof-top solar system at Hilltop Montessori in Brattleboro.
"We are pleased to receive an approval for the Westminster Solar project after a 16-month process," said Andrew Cay, president of Integrated Solar. "The towns of Brattleboro and Putney have patiently awaited this decision and will soon realize the promised savings and benefits of purchasing energy from this solar resource. Integrated Solar is proud to be part of this direction in our community and by towns and cities elsewhere in Vermont moving toward a sustainable future."
The Westminster project did not need local approval because it falls under a state statute that permits these types of projects through Act 250, Vermont's land use and development act. However, abutters and municipal agents can submit comments during the process and can be listed as interested parties if they so desire. According to PSB documents, the town of Westminster did not file any comments about the project.
However, two of the abutters, the Goodell Family and Adam Hallock, submitted concerns to the Public Service Board.
The Goodells claimed the project would be a commercial venture sited on land zoned for residential and agricultural use and "does not lend itself to the vision of the Town of Westminster." They were also concerned about the impact the project would have on the aesthetics of the neighborhood.
Hallock's concerns centered on the degradation of natural resources "and the natural beauty at his back door."
He also argued that putting solar panels on the hayfield would be in conflict with the town's goal of preserving its agricultural land.
But in its Certificate of Public Good, the Public Service Board notes the project's compatibility with local zoning regulations and potential impacts to private property "are not within the scope of proceedings ..."
The PSB concluded that both Hallock's and the Goodells' concerns were "general and speculative in nature and (have not) raised a significant issue ..." The board also found that the project does not violate "a clear, written community standard."
The board also must take into consideration whether a project "will shock or offend the average person."
"As adjacent landowners ... the Goodells and Mr. Hallock are most likely to be impacted by the view of the Project and therefore have an individualized perspective which, by definition, is different from the viewpoint of the average person," wrote the board. "While we recognize that the impact of the Project on views from the immediate neighboring properties will be adverse, we nonetheless conclude that an average person looking at the Project from a public standpoint would not find the Project to be shocking or offensive because only a portion of the Project will be visible and that portion will be partially screened from view."
The Reformer was unsuccessful at contacting the Goodells and Hallock.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.