SVSU Solar Consortium deal falls through

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BENNINGTON — The 20-year solar consortium agreement that the boards of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union voted to join has collapsed, the SU announced on Wednesday.

"I just want to give a quick update to the board on the subject of the solar consortium," said MAU Director of Facilities Paul Danserau, "Last month the board had a motion to sign a 20-year contract with Ampersand Energy Partners for net metering credits to the district of not less than 24 percent of electric rates charged by Green Mountain Power." Danserau reported that SVSU Finance Officer Jim Kocsis had earlier that day spoken with the energy consulting firm that had set up the arrangement, Competitive Energy Services, and was told that Ampersand had not been included in the current Green Mountain Power net metering agreement. GMP, he said, has achieved its cap on net metering for this year, and no additional companies will be allowed in at this point.

"The SVSU finance department is currently pursuing other companies that are part of net metering that might have availability," he said, "and if it makes financial sense, we'll pursue those actions and present them to you at a future date. As of now, we do not expect to have any of the benefits from net metering that we were expecting in the upcoming year."

"That's too bad," said recently re-elected MAU Chairman Tim Holbrook, "because we were going to realize some nice savings."

Kocsis explained that in 2014, the Legislature had set the net metering cap at 15 percent of the total load. According to Superintendent Jim Culkeen, that cap was met in November. It is not clear what the delay was in the schools being notified.

Ampersand was not the first company the solar consortium attempted to partner with. As then-CFO Rick Pembroke explained to the Bennington School District board at a meeting in February, "The contract they were negotiating fell through on a couple levels. The developer didn't get the necessary permit... but they have married us with another developer, Ampersand Energy Partners, at a 24 percent discount. If the board is still interested then I would recommend that they go with this. This is still the best discount available, and is better than we've seen anywhere else."

The original contract had been for a 30 percent credit, although, the actual net savings to the boards, according to Pembroke, would have been closer to 22 percent. Similarly, the 24 percent discount on the energy credits from Ampersand would have been higher than the real percentage savings, as the plan was not to purchase the entirety of the schools' energy needs, to mitigate the risk of buying more credits than are needed, and CES would have been due a fee had the contract actually come to fruition.

Shaftsbury was the only district in the SU that did not vote to join the consortium. Danserau and Kocsis said that they and CES will continue to seek alternate options.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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