Interested parties look at solar array

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BRATTLEBORO — Several interested and supportive parties gathered under a tent near a 500kW commercial solar array to learn more about green energy.

This array, from Waterbury-based Green Lantern Group, began developing power into the grid in May and sits behind New Chapter, a vitamins and herbal supplements company located on Technology Drive. A variety of people were invited to check out the solar array on Friday afternoon, and to thank those directly involved with the project such as the landowner (Winstanley) and the customer for the net metering credit (Brattleboro Memorial Hospital), according to Green Lantern's director of development for southern Vermont, Ralph Meima.

Meima also highlighted this event as an opportunity to answer questions for those who may be interested in leasing land. The discussion centered on array planning, permitting, financing, construction and operation.

"This is a great example of the perfect site for solar development, this is the kind of site that is out of sight out of mind," said Green Lantern President Luke Shullenberger.

Shullenberger said he thinks that even the most "ardent anti-development folks the state" would not have anything negative to say about the site for the array. Meima adds that it is not a good place for agriculture because it has no top soil. He said state Rep. Mollie S. Burke, P-Windham 2-2, attended the open houses earlier and told him the land at one time was looked at for recreation.

Meima notes that Green Lantern goes through a rigorous permitting process, which includes submitting information about potential environmental impacts to the Public Service Board, Agency of Natural Resources. Some environmental questions were raised for this site, including a rare plant species, but Meima said they were able to go forth with construction after they confined and protected the plants. Shullenberger adds that the total construction for the project was under $2 million.

"A lot of the credit goes to the state of Vermont for creating legislation that makes this possible, because it's not possible in many states, although a lot of states are moving along as well," Meima said.

Meima references Group Net Metering, which he said made this renewable energy possible to be built using private money. Also, no investment was required by the landowner or hospital, Green Lantern coordinates the finances with institutional investors and lenders that formed a fund. The fund owns the project and Green Lantern manages it on behalf of the fund.

This project behind New Chapter is financed along with 22 other similar projects throughout Vermont. Meima adds that Green Lantern has 52 total projects that have been completed or are under construction throughout the state, with a total capacity of 22 mega watts of power.

One local to Rockingham, Kenny Otto, had been seeking to get solar panels installed on top of his house and when he was approached by Green Lantern, he was excited and curious to learn more about how he could get involved.

"This was a way for me to do both the solar energy thing and occupy the property," he said.

Otto came to the open house on Friday because he wanted to see the solar array up close in person. When he was told the solar array that could be built on his property would resemble the one in Brattleboro, he was even more enthused.

"Having land that you have and could use and doing nothing with it, that is stagnant — that bothers me. I want to have something come out of it," Otto said. "Also being part of the green energy thing, for lack of a better word, and I get to make money so it's going to be a decent income."

This is the second solar array that BMH is sponsoring, including one located in Springfield. BMH CEO Steve Gordon came to Friday's open house to support the project. As one of the largest employers in town, that operates 24/7, the hospital has a very "substantial" energy bill. Gordon said.

"The clean energy generated by this array will serve the main BMH hospital building and generate significant savings over the 20-year term of the agreement. BMH is drawing credits from two solar arrays currently, at an estimated savings of $35,000 on our annual electric bill," said Gordon.

He adds that this project is an example of how BMH is working toward sustainability across all its operations by reducing its carbon footprint, plus understanding the significant savings in energy costs.

"By collaborating with local business and development interests, BMH is contributing the revitalization of our local economy. Statewide, the solar energy industry accounts for 17,000 jobs and their associated tax revenue," Gordon said.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275.


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