Guilford solar site goes live

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GUILFORD — All the branches of a non-profit, member-owned bank cooperative are set to benefit from a solar array constructed on Kirchheimer Drive.

"We've been working on this for the last couple years," said Rob Miller, Vermont State Employees Credit Union chief executive officer. "We looked at various sites, various developers and various versions of the project throughout the state."

A 500 kilowatt solar array in Guilford, currently owned by Sovern Solar, was switched on during a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday. VSECU will purchase net-metering credits at a discounted rate for the next five-and-a-half years, then it will have an option to purchase the array at market value.

Miller said a branch in Burlington was still in the process of transferring net metering credits from Burlington Electric to Green Mountain Power.

"VSECU will be investing in green, clean, renewable energy here in Vermont and in doing so, offsetting our electric utility costs by receiving renewable energy credits. Essentially, we believe that good things happen, frankly, when people come together and work towards common good," Miller said. "We'll be able to keep the renewable energy in Vermont with VSECU, with Vermonters, with the state. We hope that it will count toward the state's renewable energy goal of 90 percent renewable by the year 2050."

This marks the largest array Sovern has built. The price tag was in excess of $1 million, according to Peter Thurrell, owner of Sovern.

He said changes coming to the state's net-metering rules will make projects of this size "hard to do" in the future. His company usually constructs 150 KW arrays — altogether, it has put up 13 in southern Vermont.

Property owner William Wohnus "realized that using this wide open field to harvest sunshine and turn it into electricity was a better use for the land than using it to just grow grass and turning that into hay," said Thurrell. A fence will be going up around the array with a plant species to promote the health of bees and butterflies.

"We wanted to find a suitable site for the community and neighbors," Miller told the Reformer. "We're really happy with this site."

A project team of advisers, consultants and Sovern were responsible for navigating a federal benefit available for solar developers.

"When investing in solar, whether residential or commercial, the question is how do we maximize the 30 percent federal tax investment credit? Nonprofits haven't invested heavily in renewable energy because unlike the for-profit sector, they don't get the benefits of the 30 percent tax credit," said Laurie Fielder, program director for VGreen, the bank's financing program for projects involving energy efficiency. "So this is a critical factor in order for the economics to make sense."

Construction began in August and local residents were among the crew setting up the panels.

Getting the posts in the ground is usually the most challenging part of any project, according to site manager Ken Robinson. His team will encounter different types of ground at each location.

"We have to research what method to use," said Robinson.

The solar array was set up on a 28-acre field. Wohnus said he was proud of the project's outcome as it would allow for the property to "stay green" for 30 years to come.

"If I had sold it to a developer and put houses all over it," he said, "it would have been quite a different outcome."

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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