Solar developer targets southern Vermont

Connecticut’s Freepoint eyes 20-megawatt arrays

Big solar may be coming to southern Vermont.

New documents show that Connecticut-based Freepoint Solar has plans to develop three arrays - each capable of generating 20 megawatts of power - in Vernon, Shaftsbury, and Fair Haven.

Only one array of that size has been approved in Vermont at this point. And large photovoltaic projects have spurred debates about siting and transmission capacity.

But officials are taking a wait-and-see approach, given that many details of the Freepoint projects, including their exact locations within those three towns, aren't yet clear.

Bennington County Regional Commission “will work with [Shaftsbury] to evaluate the project and will carefully assess its impacts based on our regional plan and the town plan,” said Jim Sullivan, the commission's executive director.

Until now, the largest solar proposals in Vermont have belonged to Maine-based Ranger Solar and its development partner, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources.

Earlier this year, state regulators approved those companies' 20-megawatt Coolidge Solar project in Ludlow and Cavendish - an array four times more powerful than anything built so far in Vermont.

The Coolidge array is scheduled for construction next year, said NextEra spokesman Bryan Garner.

Big proposals

The companies also have large solar proposals in Brandon, Sheldon, Highgate, and Randolph. Garner said those projects are expected to enter the permitting phase later this year.

Now, Freepoint Solar appears to be pushing into the same market with similarly-sized ambitions.

The company's projects came to light via Massachusetts officials, who are seeking “cost-effective, long-term contracts” to buy clean, renewable energy. Freepoint has submitted multiple proposals to the Massachusetts initiative including the 20-megawatt solar arrays in Windham, Bennington, and Rutland counties.

Freepoint could not be reached for comment, and its proposals available online are redacted to hide key financing, siting, and schedule information.

But the documents identify each town and include other details. For example, Freepoint Solar says it is working with Connecticut-based SunEast Development on the Vermont projects.

Both are portrayed as experienced solar companies: Freepoint says it has more than 300 megawatts in development in six states, while documents say SunEast administrators “have been responsible for the development of over 700 megawatts of renewable energy projects in New York and New England over the past seven years.”

Freepoint says each project has an option agreement in place with a landowner, though details aren't available in the online documents.

The company also says its chosen sites will have “minimal visibility” to the public.

Although Freepoint's proposals would be subject to state Public Utility Commission approval, the developers sound confident about gaining local support, as well.

'Mid-stage development'

For instance, Freepoint says it has “initiated discussions” with Shaftsbury officials and predicts that “this project would be viewed very favorably by the local officials and residents.”

But Shaftsbury's town administrator said he wasn't aware of any communications between the town and Freepoint. Likewise, officials in Vernon and Fair Haven said they hadn't heard from the company.

Each proposed array is characterized by Freepoint as “mid-stage development.” That includes completion of a “conceptual site design” and an interconnection application submitted to ISO New England, which administers the region's power grid.

ISO New England's public interconnection-request database does, in fact, have three new listings for 20-megawatt solar projects in Windham, Bennington and Rutland counties. Each of those projects has an estimated operational date of July 1, 2019.

ISO New England spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg said no information about who submitted those interconnection requests is available to the public.

She noted, however, that such requests don't necessarily end with finished power projects. About 68 percent of the megawatt capacity proposed to ISO New England is never built, Blomberg said.

The fate of Freepoint's Vermont projects may depend in part on whether Massachusetts officials decide to buy power from the company. A schedule for the Massachusetts initiative says projects will be selected for negotiation in January, with power-purchase contracts to be executed in March.

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