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State OK's first large solar array in Guilford

Blanchard Hill Solar will be a 500 kilowatt solar array situated on former agricultural land that was chosen, developers say, for its relative seclusion

GUILFORD—The town’s first large-scale solar array has received state approval, but it might be hard to find even when construction is complete.

In granting a certificate of public good for a 500 kilowatt, group net-metered solar facility on former agricultural land, the state Public Service Board noted that the array “would have limited visibility from public viewpoints” and “would be substantially shielded by the existing vegetation and topography.”

That relative seclusion was a big reason that the site, at 1600 Guilford Center Rd., was chosen, one of the project’s developers said.

“When you think about responsible and appropriate development practices and orderly development of the region, we think this project rates really high,” said Luke Shullenberger, managing partner of Waterbury-based Green Lantern Group. “It’s set back from public view and from neighbors.”

Fueled by financial incentives and Vermont’s net-metering law, the state’s solar industry has been booming. But it wasn’t until this past summer that several photovoltaic proposals began to surface in Guilford.

Guilford’s fire department already is drawing power from a small set of solar panels on the station’s roof. But the town does not yet have any arrays the size of Blanchard Hill Solar, which is the local business name for the project pursued by Shullenberger’s company and Guilford-based developer Dan Ingold.

Nevertheless, there was no opposition to the Blanchard Hill Solar proposal. Guilford Selectboard is just beginning to explore the complex regulations governing solar development, but Chairwoman Anne Rider said Ingold’s participation in the Blanchard Hill project made the process go smoothly.

Ingold has noted that the project’s access point – and even its initial name – was changed based on interaction with nearby residents. And he met several times with the Selectboard to discuss solar development.

“Dan gave a very thorough presentation. He really addressed the concerns that we might have such as the aesthetic impacts and any other issues that might have come up,” Rider said. “He also helped us in trying to understand what questions Selectboards should be asking.”

In the end, “we felt comfortable with the specifications and thought they met the Public Service Board’s criteria pretty well,” Rider said.

The Public Service Board agreed, granting a certificate of public good for the project on Oct. 5. State documents say the array will occupy about “3.5 acres of an approximately 5 acre, undeveloped, formerly agricultural parcel.”

Solar panels will be set back at least 250 feet from Guilford Center Road and at least 50 feet from other property lines, the board’s ruling says. After construction, the property will be reseeded, mowed as needed and “may be used as a seasonal pasture for sheep.”

“Potential visual impacts will be largely mitigated through the project’s design and siting on a 95-foot rise above the road. The project site is somewhat isolated, and potential visual impacts are minimal,” board members wrote. “From locations where the site would be visible, the project would be a minor element within the landscape because of the project’s high elevation and the low profile of the arrays.”

Under Vermont’s net-metering regulations, an electric customer – or a group of customers – can receive utility bill credits for generating power via small-scale renewable energy systems. And those “off-takers” don’t need to be anywhere near the actual array.

Net-metering credits associated with Blanchard Hill Solar will be transferred a few hours north to Warren-based Summit Ventures NE LLC, which runs Sugarbush Resort. State documents say the Guilford solar array “would be one of a group of net-metered systems that offset Sugarbush Resort’s electricity usage.”

Win Smith, Sugarbush’s majority owner, said resort administrators are interested both in the environmental and financial benefits of solar power. “Our view is, obviously, the ski resort is very concerned about climate change, and we want to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint,” Smith said, adding that, “solar, from my point of view ... makes the most sense for Vermont.”

Blanchard Hill is the first net-metering project for Sugarbush. But, given the resort’s electricity usage when running at full capacity, Smith said he’s interested in participating in more solar deals.

“We have the utility bill, and the (solar) developers are looking for investors, so they’re really doing the heavy lifting for us,” Smith said.

Shullenberger said there’s no particular reason Sugarbush was linked to the Guilford project; the resort simply was selected as the next in line for net-metering services. “We have a whole long list of off-takers who have expressed interest in our projects,” he said.

Though state approval has been granted for Blanchard Hill Solar, Shullenberger said it will take several weeks to finish preparing the project for construction. Work ideally would start within the next 45 days and can continue even as cold weather approaches, he said.

“The biggest factor is really getting posts into the ground before the ground freezes,” he said.

There are several other solar projects in the works in Guilford, including a 150-kilowatt array on Guilford Center Road; a 500-kilowatt array on Kirchheimer Drive; and another 500-kilowatt proposal at the Exit 1 Industrial Park. The latter is on land owned by Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. and is situated partly in Guilford.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #327 (Wednesday, October 14, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.

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