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Community solar farm powers up in Putney

PUTNEY—Vermont’s first community solar farm started producing power last week.

The grand opening of SunFarm Community Solar, a 588-panel array that can produce 147 kilowatts of electricity, was celebrated last Friday afternoon.

Although there are bigger solar installations around Vermont, SunFarm was the first to have a third party develop the project to give homeowners and businesses unable to install panels an opportunity to buy in and receive credit for the power that is generated.

The panels, which are expected to last 50 years, cost $813 each. Under the SunFarm model, customers will own the panels in about 12 years and receive electricity for free after the equipment is paid for.

Project founder Nick Ziter said that, as of last Friday, all but 11 panels had been reserved. Forty-three households and businesses have bought the panels, which are generating electricity for Green Mountain Power, he added.

Any GMP customer can participate, receiving an electricity bill account credit proportional to the number of panels purchased. Homeowners would also receive rebates and tax incentives as though the panels were on their own property.

Paul Spencer, the CEO and co-founder of the Clean Energy Collective (CEC), estimates the Putney site, which is located near Santa’s Land off Route 5, will generate about $4.7 million in electricity over its lifetime.

CEC, a Colorado-based company, has been a pioneer of the community solar model, partnering earlier this year with Ziter and providing the finance, expertise, permitting, and regulation savvy that Ziter has said occasionally exceeded his knowledge.

“None of this would’ve happened without them,” he explained.

CEC will maintain, inspect, and repair the Putney farm’s solar panels, which were installed by Integrated Solar of Brattleboro.

Spencer said CEC will continue to partner with Ziter on other solar projects as SunFarm grows.

Ziter said the lessons he learned in putting the Putney project together will help in the future.

“There were plenty of bumps in the road along the way, but we did it,” he said. “All of this happened so quickly, but I’m not surprised, because I knew there was interest in solar.”

Last October, when he first announced the project, the field that the solar panels now sit upon was a pasture.

“Now, it’s real,” Ziter said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #218 (Wednesday, August 28, 2013).

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