Brattleboro parking garage could host 'innovative' solar array

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BRATTLEBORO — A parking garage's rooftop could be the next spot in town to sport solar panels.

Green Lantern Solar will look at running "a microgrid system consisting of a solar array on the Transportation Center located between Flat and Elliot streets, a storage battery, and a means to use the power it stores, for example vehicle charging when the overall electric grid is down," according to a letter of intent the Select Board authorized the town manager to sign Tuesday. "The lease will have a term of 20 years with three successive five-year renewal options commencing at the conclusion of year 20."

Green Lantern will conduct a feasibility study to see whether the project is worthwhile. The letter of intent prevents the town from leasing or selling the space to anyone else until the agreement expires Dec. 31, 2019. It also gives the town the chance to buy discounted net-metering credits associated with the array. The credits go toward power bills.

Ralph Meima, director of development for Green Lantern in southern Vermont, had approached the town's Energy Committee about the project in February. He also serves as a Town Meeting member in Brattleboro.

In a letter, Meima told town officials, "There is the potential for emergency management and response benefits during a grid outage ... [and] also potential image and educational benefits to having an innovative facility like this downtown, in a town-owned building that is publicly accessible. Signage and some sort of real-time performance could be included."

Town "staff's initial response was tepid," Town Manager Peter Elwell wrote in a memo. "The town recently signed up for all of the solar net-metering credits it could reasonably consume with another project at the Windham Solid Waste [Management] District."

But Meima estimated lease payments could put about $1,200 annually into the town's parking fund. For now, Elwell said it is impossible to tell whether the array would be taxable.

"Because of the limited financial benefit, the project can best be seen as an example of meaningful research and development into what is feasible for a small scale solar project in an urban setting in New England," Elwell wrote. "But the project has many hurdles to overcome, above and beyond the need for a business to receive a return on its investment."

Elwell said the town would need to be confident that the roof could safely support the array and that the project owner had adequate insurance to protect the public's continued use of the garage. He did not expect any parking spaces to be lost as a result. And the agreement makes Green Lantern responsible for all costs related to the feasibility study, permitting and structural analysis.

Daniel Quip of Brattleboro told Select Board members he would like to see the project's net-metering credits benefit low-income residents if possible.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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