BRATTLEBORO—While some worry about solar panels consuming prime agricultural acreage in Vermont, a Windham County economic development agency has found a different kind of home for photovoltaic power generation.
The state has approved two new, 500-kilowatt solar arrays in Guilford, one of which will be built at Exit One Industrial Park. Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. (BDCC) owns that land and will take advantage of utility credits associated with the net-metered project.
While pointing out the project’s financial and environmental benefits, BDCC Executive Director Adam Grinold also said the array won’t short-circuit any further development at the park, which is situated at the Brattleboro-Guilford border.
“This is not developable land,” Grinold said. “It’s on a slope. We are not taking land that could be used for a future project.”
Guilford is relatively new to Vermont’s solar boom, with the state Public Service Board last fall approving the town’s first large-scale photovoltaic project — a 500-kilowatt installation off Guilford Center Road.
Within the past several weeks, the board has issued certificates of public good for two additional Guilford solar installations planned for 159 Kirchheimer Drive and 380 John Seitz Drive in the industrial park. Taken together, the new projects will cover about seven acres of ground and will be capable of producing a combined 1 megawatt of power.
The Kirchheimer Drive array was proposed by Westminster-based Soveren Inc. and will occupy about 3.5 acres of a 29-acre property, according to state documents. It is a net-metered solar project; prior to operating the array, Soveren will be required to file information with the state identifying the beneficiaries of power produced at the site.
Responding to questions raised by the state Agency of Natural Resources, Soveren also will be required to conduct a wetland study and plant inventory at the site to avoid any negative impacts, documents show.
In terms of aesthetics, though, the Public Service Board ruled that the Kirchheimer Drive solar project will have no adverse impacts.
The board reached the same conclusion regarding the Exit One Industrial Park, but with one caveat: Regulators noted that the array’s northern boundary lies less than 50 feet from industrial park tenant G.S. Precision Inc.
“In order to soften the view of the project from the neighbor’s property and mitigate this aesthetics concern, the petitioner has agreed to engage G.S. Precision Inc. in the development of a post-construction landscaping plan for the project site,” Public Service Board members wrote in their decision.
If there is no agreement on a landscaping solution, then G.S. Precision will have a chance to file comments with the service board.
The petitioner for the industrial park project is listed officially as GLC Powersmith Solar LLC. But the main players are familiar from the 500-kilowatt project approved here last year — Luke Shullenberger of Waterbury-based Green Lantern Group, and Guilford-based solar developer Dan Ingold.
Ingold previously received high marks from town officials for his handling of the Guilford Center Road solar project. Grinold offered similar praise in connection to the industrial park initiative, saying Ingold has been “just fantastic to work with.”
It is Brattleboro Development Credit Corp’s first time participating in a net-metered solar project, and “it will certainly help us reduce our carbon footprint,” Grinold said.
On the economic side of the equation, net metering will allow the corporation to reduce its electrical expenses due to credits based on the power the array produces. That’s no small thing for an entity that owns both the Cotton Mill and the Book Press — two properties with numerous business tenants.
Grinold didn’t quantify BDCC’s projected net-metering savings, and he acknowledged that it “doesn’t come close to the cost” of utilities at the two large business complexes. But he said the industrial park array will be one way to cut costs.
“The operation of our facilities requires a considerable amount of electricity,” Grinold said. “Our tenants and their facilities are heavy users as well.”
Grinold said it’s too early to tell whether the development corporation will be looking for additional solar opportunities. “We’ll see what the state and the utilities and the developers come up with for a [solar] model going forward for the state of Vermont,” he said.