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Bringing solar to the Brattleboro Food Co-op

Nonprofit energy cooperative to install 38kW system on roof of new store

BRATTLEBORO—The roof of the new Brattleboro Food Co-op building may soon be the home of the town’s first community-owned solar electricity system.

According to Tom Simon, a local coordinator for Co-op Power of Southern Vermont, the consumer-owned energy cooperative has entered into an agreement with the Food Co-op to build a photovoltaic solar array that will generate 38 kilowatts of electricity.

The cost of the project is estimated at $215,000. Simon said state and federal incentives will cover $65,000, leaving $150,000 left to be raised locally.

Simon said that Co-op Power will use member equity and loans to pay to install the panels, then sell the power to the Food Co-op for five to seven years.

After that time, the Food Co-op will buy the system from Co-op Power, which will then pay off the member loans and invest the member equity into future clean-energy projects in the area.

“This will be a very visible project that will also show that solar electricity is workable, even in a downtown area,” said Michael Bosworth of Co-op Power.

In a recent edition of the Brattleboro Food Co-op’s newsletter, General Manager Alex Gyori wrote that members had wanted renewable energy to power the store, and that the solar panels were “a feature that we want, but had to put off to a later time because we could not yet afford them.”

By teaming up with Co-op Power, Gyori wrote, the Food Co-op “will end up with something we’ve wished for all along, and be able to use the power generated from a renewable source well before we can afford to generate it ourselves.”

Simon said that this is Co-op Power’s first big initiative in southern Vermont, and the biggest overall since it leveraged $135,000 in member equity last year to finance a $2.76 million biofuel plant in Greenfield, Mass.

The plant, which processes waste vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel for transportation and home heating, is 100 percent locally owned, and after 10 years will be owned entirely by Co-op Power and the plant workers.

Simon said that Co-op Power’s member investments have supported development in western Massachusetts, as well as in the Boston area, of five solar installation businesses, one thermal window insert business, and a multi-family/commercial energy efficiency contractor.

Co-op Power of Southern Vermont is recruiting new members to raise the approximately $150,000 needed for the Brattleboro solar project. Simon said that his group already has $8,000 in member equity, and three members have pledged an additional $12,000 in member loans.

“The success the [Food Co-op] had in raising money from its members to build their new store gave us a lot of hope for this project,” said Bosworth.

A standard membership share in Co-op Power typically costs $975 ($500 for those with limited resources), plus a $25 annual membership fee. Simon said that to boost membership in southern Vermont, and ensure that the Food Co-op solar project is quickly funded, Co-op Power is offering, through June 30, to reduce the cost of a standard membership to $750.

Simon said members can pay in over time (two to five years) if they choose, adding that member shares cost a lot because the community-scale energy projects Co-op Power is taking on are also expensive.

“We realize we’re asking people to pony up a substantial sum of money, but the more people who can get involved in southern Vermont, the more projects we can do here,” said Simon. “At the same time, we are trying to get people of all means involved.”

For more information about Co-op Power of Southern Vermont, or to join, visit www.cooppower.coop, or contact Simon at 802-380-5958 or tom@cooppower.coop.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #101 (Wednesday, May 18, 2011).

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