WESTMINSTER -- Brattleboro elementary schools are closer to buying electricity at a reduced rate after the Vermont Public Service Board rendered a decision Tuesday to authorize the installation of a 500-kilowatt solar net-metered electric generation facility on Solar Park Road in Westminster.
The PSB decided the size and scope of the proposed project and the petition -- filed by Soveren, Inc. but later taken over by NextSun Energy Rutland LLC -- does not violate Vermont state statutes. The board believes the project would serve the public interest and promote the general good of the state.
Putney-based Soveren filed a petition requesting authorization of the project on Jan. 13 and NextSun submitted a letter on July 2 to ask to be substituted for Soveren as the petitioner. According to the state PSB, the proposed project consists of a 500-kilowatt solar net-metered electric generation facility on 5.5 acres of land within the Westminster business park. The order by the PSB states NextSun -- which is based in Brookline, Mass., and was granted a certificate of public good from the PSB -- will control the project site through a purchase and sale agreement and holds an option to close the sale once necessary permits are issued. Net-metering involves multiple places using the solar electricity from solar panels located in a designated spot and splitting the bill in order to save money.
Mark Truhan, the vice chairman of the Brattleboro School Board, told the Reformer he expects the town's elementary schools (Oak Grove, Green Street and Academy) to offset its electrical costs by receiving electricity generated from the project at a reduced rate through Vermont's group net-metering program and NextSun will get a tax credit. He said the PSB's findings are a good step forward.
"It sounds like (NextSun) can go ahead with the project," he said, adding it is a win-win situation. "We have no money tied up in this."
Truhan said the electric generation facility slated for Solar Park Road will be financed by upstanding and reputable private investors.
He told the Reformer that Oak Grove, Green Street and Academy schools collectively use about $90,000 worth of electricity each year and net-metering could equal annual savings of $4,500 to $9,000 -- or 5 to 10 percent.
"This is the sort of things that gets legs and runs. It serves everyone well," Truhan said. "We've been shepherding this for the last couple of years."
According to the PSB, the array will consist of 2,022 panels mounted on top of 262 seasonally adjustable poles in nine rows starting at the northern edge of the project site. The rows of panels will run east to west.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) filed comments on March 26 recommending the petition be denied due to the potential for negative impacts to natural resources. Senior Planner and Policy Analyst Billy Coster told the Reformer the agency's initial comments were filed because the petition was incomplete and additional information was needed in order for the ANR to review it. Coster said ANR feels all necessary information has since been provided and there is no longer an issue, as the proposed project meets state standards.
On July 2, the members of the Westminster Selectboard expressed their concern that the project could hinder additional uses of the site. Chairman Nathan Stoddard told the Reformer there were worries that construction of the electric generation facility on the town's limited industrial space could restrict further industrial growth and eliminate the potential for more tax revenue.
State statutes require the PSB to determine whether a project, as proposed, will not unfairly interfere with the orderly development of the region. The PSB reported the Westminster Selectboard could not state why the proposed project is inconsistent with the area's current development pattern and PSB members James Volz, John D. Burke and Margaret Cheney could find no reason to believe the facility's placement in an area reserved for industrial and commercial use would interfere with orderly development.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.