Old Townshend dump will host solar array


TOWNSHEND -- There is a new use for the old town dump.

The Vermont Public Service Board has approved an application to construct a 149.5-kilowatt solar array at a former landfill off Grafton Road.

While the town applied for the project's certificate of public good and will see financial benefits from the facility, the project will be funded by private investors and constructed by Westminster-based Soveren Solar.

"We've found the investors. The investors are very enthusiastic about it," said Peter Thurrell, Soveren president. "And the town is enthusiastic about it."

Developers have been touting the benefits of "community solar" projects. Under Vermont's group net-metering law, the power such a project generates can be credited to multiple utility customers.

Also, Thurrell points out that those who benefit from a solar project don't necessarily have to host the photovoltaic panels. For example, the company is working on permitting for a 500-kilowatt solar project in Westminster that will result in energy savings for Brattleboro schools.

In Townshend, however, the proposed solar facility will be located on town-owned land at 3533 Grafton Road.

There is no investment required from the town. Instead, private investors are funding a project that's expected to cost just under $500,000.

Thurrell said tax credits make such an arrangement possible. As a nonprofit that does not pay taxes, the town can't use the federal tax credits associated with solar facilities. But private investors can, to the tune of 30 percent of the total project cost, Thurrell said.

As a participant in the project, though, the town will save money on its electrical bills via credits applied to its Green Mountain Power account. Thurrell projected those electric-cost savings at 10 percent, though the exact amount is still to be determined.

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In addition, the solar project brings renewed purpose to land that can't be used for much else.

"It's town property," said Hedy Harris, Townshend Selectboard vice chairwoman. "There used to be a town dump there. That was capped years ago, and it hasn't really been used for anything since."

Harris added that "I haven't heard any objections in Townshend" to the solar development, which received Selectboard approval.

Given Vermont's emphasis on renewable energy, "it seemed like something that's good to get involved in and familiar with," she said.

Town officials will monitor the project closely. And in approximately seven years, they will have the option to purchase the solar facility.

"They don't have to buy it," Thurrell said. "But if they do, there's every reason to believe that they will get a significantly larger savings on their electric bill."

He expects that the array will consist of 100 poles and 600 solar panels. For those who aren't fans of the appearance of photovoltaic panels, developers say there won't be much aesthetic impact.

"You'll hardly see it at all," Thurrell said. "You'll see the back row of it if you drive along the road."

Thurrell said the project is expected to move forward this year. And Soveren is looking for other governmental partners in solar-power development.

"We still have the capacity to do this with other towns and other schools," Thurrell said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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