Bennington solar farm proposal is back on table

BENNINGTON -- A renewable energy company is again gauging the town's interest in a solar farm on otherwise unusable land two years after the company determined it would not be cost-effective.

Encore Redevelopment, a Burlington-based firm specializing in outfitting environmentally challenged sites with renewable energy projects, is again pitching a plan to the Select Board for a capped former dump off Houghton Lane. The board granted approval Monday by consensus for town staff to begin negotiating more specific terms.

Founder Chad Farrell first approached the town in 2010 with a solar proposal. The company was hoping to install 750 solar panels at the former dump, a 5-acre Superfund site owned by the town. Farrell said his company would have covered all costs associated with the 150-kilowatt project. In return, electricity would have been sold to the town at a 10 percent discounted rate through net-metering.

The project would have required the town to enter into a 10-year power purchase agreement with the company, and the town would have had the option of purchasing the system at the end of the contract. However, further discussions with town officials revealed that the electricity rate the company could offer the town was still higher than the current market rate. The deal fell through and both sides agreed to revisit the idea if the market changed.

A general presentation shared with the Select Board Monday night said new legislation and decreases in solar panel pricing in the last six months has "fundamentally changed the community scale renewable energy landscape." The company has programs, experience and a "network of finance partners" to help communities and businesses use locally generated renewable energy.

The presentation promised "the ability to purchase clean, locally generated, carbon-free renewable power at below market rates."

Bennington Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Daniel Monks said town officials will begin negotiating with the company to determine if the rates offered by Encore will benefit the town. Monks said he will update the board when defined terms are available.

Monks told the board that the project previous was seeking "very specific incentives" that expired before Encore could move forward. There is now a "much more stable picture for funding," he said. "They feel pretty confident that they can attract investors," Monks said.


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