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Solar project gets go-ahead

PSB approves 498-kilowatt installation at former concrete plant

JAMAICA—A 498 kilowatt solar installation soon will occupy a Jamaica property formerly used for lumber and construction operations.

Cement Plant Solar LLC has received a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board to build the group net-metered solar array off Route 100 in Jamaica. Cement Plant Solar is a local business name taken by Essex Capital Partners, a Massachusetts company that has been a significant player in the growth of Vermont’s solar-power output.

Charlie Grant, who is managing the project for Essex Capital, said it is possible – though not certain – that the Jamaica array could begin generating electricity later this year.

“The soonest the site could be up and running is December, depending on weather and construction scheduling,” Grant said.

Essex Capital Partners is based in Boxford, Mass., and has been involved in some large Vermont photovoltaic projects: The company developed the 2.2 megawatt White River Junction Solar Farm, which began operating in October 2012, and the 1.89 megawatt Barton Solar Farm, which was commissioned in November 2014.

The Jamaica site will be Essex Capital’s first group net-metered site in Vermont. Via Vermont’s net-metering regulations, a utility customer – or group of customers – can receive electric bill credits for generating power via small-scale, renewable energy systems.

“With the expiration of the (state’s) SPEED Standard Offer program, we have seen commercial group net metering as the best regulatory construct under which we can expand in Vermont,” Grant wrote in an e-mail response to questions from VTDigger.org.

The site the company chose, off Route 100 in Jamaica, is described by the state Public Service Board as “an approximately 10-acre parcel that has historically been used for concrete and logging operations.” State documents say the project will occupy about four acres, though Grant said the “total area under solar panels will be about two acres.”

The property’s history includes use as a “portable, ready-mix concrete plant” that helped feed development efforts at nearby Stratton Mountain, Grant said.

“A number of years ago, it was more efficient to add water to concrete close to the project rather than truck it over long distances. Since the end of those Stratton projects, the plant has not been used as regularly and has largely sat idle,” Grant said.

He sees the planned changes at the site as an improvement – transforming a brownfield into a greenfield, in the sense that the property will be producing renewable energy.

“We liked the site because it is visually sheltered from Route 100, has ready access to electrical infrastructure and has a south-facing slope,” Grant said. “Another plus is that this site has a history of industrial use. We think an adaptive re-use as a solar array is a great way to transition the site from its previous use.”

There is a continuing tie-in, though, to the cement business: The state says the solar facility will produce power for William E. Dailey Precast’s facilities. That concrete company is based in Shaftsbury but also has branches in Manchester and Wilmington.

William E. Dailey Inc. also owns the Jamaica property where the solar array will be built, just outside the village of Rawsonville. But Cement Plant Solar LLC is in the process of purchasing the land, Grant said.

“Dailey Precast (and their parent company, Peckham Materials) operates a number of electrical meters on the Green Mountain Power grid, including their precast plant in Shaftsbury,” Grant said. “We have entered into an agreement to supply power from the solar array to offset electrical usage in Shaftsbury and elsewhere in the state.”

He noted that “Green Mountain Power allows net-metering groups to be formed between a group of two or more meters on its electric grid.” Those metered customers don’t need to host solar panels in order to receive credits on their utility bills; in fact, as will be the case with the Jamaica project, they don’t need to be anywhere near the solar installation.

The permitting process for the new solar array was relatively short. The state received a petition from Cement Plant Solar on July 31, and both the Jamaica Selectboard and town planning commission filed letters with the Public Service Board endorsing the project, documents say.

The project “will not have an undue adverse impact on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water purity or the natural environment,” the PSB order says. Additionally, while the array will be located near two wetland areas, “the project will utilize appropriate erosion-control measures to ensure that the wetlands and buffer zones will not be disturbed during construction, and the project will not involve mowing of these areas during operation.”

In terms of aesthetics – which can be a key community concern for larger solar arrays – the Jamaica project “will be surrounded on all sides by dense vegetation, which will effectively screen visibility of the project from surrounding areas,” the state’s order says. “The project will also be set back more than 50 feet from existing property boundaries and more than 100 feet from Route 100. Therefore, the project will not be out of context with its surroundings.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #323 (Wednesday, September 16, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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