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The Commons
News

Sunny electricity bills ahead

Town School Board signs onto solar farm

Originally published in The Commons issue #196 (Wednesday, March 27, 2013).



BRATTLEBORO—Brattleboro town schools can look forward to saving 10 percent on electricity.

On March 20, the Town School Board signed a $130,000 solar net metering credit purchase agreement with Southern Vermont Renewable Energy (SOVEREN), a solar installation and development company based in Westminster West.

Soveren’s 500 kilowatt (kW) solar farm, still in the permitting phase, will be located in Westminster and be worth an estimated annual $130,000 in net metering credits for the four town schools. The farm will tie into Green Mountain Power’s electrical grid.

“We couldn’t be more happy to be working with the school district on this [project],” said Josh Hilsdon of Soveren Solar.

The net-metering agreement, 11 months in the making, represents to Soveren a renewable energy project that is good for the environment that that serves a social purpose in supporting the schools, said Hilsdon.

According to Hilsdon, the school district will pay 90 cents on the dollar per net-metering credit. Credits are pegged to current electrical rates.

A Soveren press release stated, “the value of the net-metering credits will increase in parallel with electricity rates, protecting the schools from rising electricity costs.”

“They’ll be receiving a 10 percent discount on the net-metering credits that will be applied to their bill,” said Hilsdon.

Hilsdon said the estimated savings for the district come in at $13,000.

“[The] credits are likely to wipe out their bill entirely,” he said.

The 500 kW solar farm should “provide all the electricity necessary for the elementary schools and there will be a little left over,” said Hilsdon.

With net metering, participants can support and benefit from solar power without installing a panel on their property.

Vermont’s group net-metering law allows multiple consumers to receive discounts on their electricity bills from one renewable energy project.

Net-metering applies to renewable electricity projects such as residential wind, micro hydro, solar farms, and small biomass plants. Investors, called a net-metering group, purchase shares in a renewable energy project. The resulting electricity then offsets the members’ energy consumption in their homes or businesses.

In some cases, the project generates more electricity than members of the net-metering group consume.

Hilsdon said that school board members initially explored installing solar panels on school property. After viewing the properties, however, Soveren employees decided on-site panel installation would not fully meet the district’s energy needs.

Instead, Soveren suggested net-metering.

As a non-taxed entity, the school district could not take advantage of the tax incentives afforded to commercial or residential properties. The district instead will participate in a two-part model that works around the district’s non-taxed status: Investors provide capital for upfront costs in exchange for recouping the tax incentives. The school district purchases the net-metering credits.

“It’s a complicated deal,” admitted Hilsdon.

The school district will not own the solar farm and therefore has no fiduciary responsibilities for the farm’s financing, operations or maintenance.

“There’s absolutely zero risk for the school system,” said Hilsdon. “We see this as a win-win for them.”

The school will have the option to buy the solar farm at fair market value seven years into the district’s 20-year contract, Hilsdon said.

Soveren Solar anticipates completing construction of the solar farm by the end of 2013. The company has begun the permitting process, which includes applying for a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board. The permitting process will take about six months, said Soveren.

Once the solar farm is completed, the schools will have access to live updates online about energy generated at the solar farm that can serve as a teaching tool in the classrooms.

According to Soveren, the solar farm will expand the role of renewable energy in Windham County, reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel electricity generation, stimulate the local economy, save the School District money, and provide exciting learning opportunities for students.

The Grammar School in Putney also worked with Soveren in 2012 on a net-metering purchase agreement. Through the project, the school built a 52 kW solar farm on its property.

Soveren Solar has developed and built over 30 solar installations in Windham County. According to the company’s website, www.soverensolar.com, the company has installed solar projects on either side of the Connecticut River and as far north as Richmond.

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