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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

Here comes the sun

New owner recharges stalled landfill solar project

BRATTLEBORO—After many delays, a large-scale landfill solar project is under new ownership and appears to be moving ahead.

Windham Solid Waste Management District officials say a multinational solar developer has partnered with a Burlington company to build a 5-megawatt array on Brattleboro’s closed and capped landfill.

The previous developer ran into financial problems and was unable to do much with the project, which was enabled by special legislative language in 2014. But officials say they’re seeing welcome signs of progress.

“We’re very optimistic because both of these companies have already put a lot of their resources into this project,” said Lou Bruso, chairman of Windham Solid Waste’s board of supervisors.

From its headquarters on Brattleboro’s Old Ferry Road, Windham Solid Waste provides recycling and waste management services and also manages the former landfill property. The district is supported by 19 member towns but recently has faced a cash crunch due to a tepid market for reselling recyclables.

A landfill solar array won’t solve all of the district’s financial problems, but it is expected to provide big benefits via utility-bill credits under Vermont’s net-metering law. Officials have projected that a typical Windham Solid Waste member town’s electric savings could reach 61 percent by the end of a 20-year power-purchase agreement.

A 5-megawatt solar array normally would be too large to qualify as net-metered. But 2014 legislation included language allowing such a project only “on a closed landfill in Windham County.”

The waste district also will receive lease revenue from the developer once the solar project is complete.

The firm initially chosen to build and operate the array, San Francisco-based Pristine Sun, stopped working on the project due to what Pristine Sun CEO Troy Helming has acknowledged were legal and financial entanglements. By late spring, Windham Solid Waste officials had begun searching for a Plan B if Pristine defaulted on its agreement.

As it turned out, they didn’t need to find a new developer: District officials were notified recently that Pristine had sold the landfill solar project to Hong Kong-based Sky Solar.

Sky Solar’s website says the company has developed photovoltaic projects in Asia, Europe, Africa, North America and South America. As of the end of 2015, Sky had worked on 273 solar facilities with a total output of about 252 megawatts.

Bruso said Sky’s Canadian office is working on WSWMD’s project, and he believes the company’s size will be an asset. “You need a big player to be able to finance the project,” he said. “It’s about a $10 million to $12 million project.”

Sky Solar has partnered with Encore Renewable Energy of Burlington. Chad Ferrell, Encore’s president, said his company will be developing the landfill array under an agreement with Sky, and the larger company will finance the project and be its long-term owner.

Bruso said Encore is an experienced developer that brings familiarity with Green Mountain Power and Vermont’s regulatory environment. For his part, Farrell said he is “thrilled to have been able to earn the trust of the Windham Solid Waste Management District to jointly develop this important and groundbreaking project.”

“In addition to generating over 5 megawatts of renewable energy on an otherwise undevelopable tract of land, the project will result in significant economic activity in the Brattleboro area and provide long-term financial value for the district and its member communities,” Farrell said.

He added that “we look forward to ensuring that this critical project becomes a reality for the district.”

At a July 14 meeting, the Windham Solid Waste board extended Pristine’s original lease — now held by Sky — for another six months. “That should take us through the permitting phase,” Bruso said. “Then, they’ll be in the procurement and development phase.”

If all goes well, Bruso expects construction could begin in spring 2017.

Since the change of ownership, Bruso said, there has been ample evidence of the project’s advancement including a state filing, contact with Green Mountain Power, and design work.

“We’ve seen more activity in the last two weeks than we’ve seen in the past year,” Bruso said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #366 (Wednesday, July 20, 2016). This story appeared on page A3.

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