Brattleboro, VT — The 19 member municipalities of the Windham Solid Waste Management District are getting the first chance to benefit from a new solar site.
“The (WSWMD) Board of Supervisors has been working very hard on this project over the last number of years,” said Lou Bruso, chairman of the board and Jamaica’s representative, during a meeting Tuesday.
Discussions began about five or six years ago when the Brattleboro Energy Committee approached the board, asking for half a megawatt of solar on the closed and capped landfill. That was “not a lot,” said Bruso, so the board wondered if it was limiting itself to a very small portion of the property. Talks led to the landfill being put into special legislation as a pilot project for group net metering. Act 99 called for up to 5 megawatts on one in Windham County.
Jamaica Select Board members have mentioned joining smaller net-metering opportunities. But Bruso said a group project allows more value for its participants.
The WSWMD issued a request for proposals and a contract was awarded to Pristine Sun. Ultimately, the lease was sold to Sky Solar, an international company that partnered with the Burlington-based Encore Renewable Energy for construction.
“This project has been resuscitated,” said Bruso.
The Vermont Public Service Board must receive an application for a certificate of public good by Dec. 31 in order for the project to fall under the current, more favorable net metering rules. Net metering rates are expected to change by at least a couple cents and proposed rules are calling for increased limits on siting. Bruso said the landfill is a good fit because it’s on Old Ferry Road, an industrial area of Brattleboro.
Besides towns, which get first rights, local school districts and supervisory unions were invited to the meeting Tuesday. Business owners and people in the private sector will get an opportunity to join if space is still available after the other groups decide.
“We’re glad to be here, glad to see this project taking off,” said Derek Moretz, vice president of development at Encore.
His company is setting up solar panels on a capped landfill in South Burlington in an arrangement that will benefit the town and school district there. He called the 17-acre property in Brattleboro “one of Vermont’s largest solar-feasible landfills.”
The plan is to have 5 megawatts connected to Green Mountain Power. Obtaining the CPG could take four to six months. Construction is expected to begin next summer then the project would be up and running by fall 2017.
Moretz said he was looking to have a list of clients in the next two or three months.
“These projects need the long term contracts in order to be financed and built,” he said. “This is really the kick-off of that process that we’d love to close out in three months.”
Net-metering credits will be purchased in the program. They will be put towards the customers’ power bill. The solar power will be fed into the power grid via lines on Old Ferry Road.
In the first year, each credit or kilowatt hour is worth 19 cents. The first 10 years is set up on a fixed rate: 19 cent credits are bought for 13.9 cents. In the following 10 years, the value will change as a residential rate will be applied.
The WSWMD benefits by the lease, said Bruso.
Sky will “be giving a certain amount of money to us for the lease,” he said. “We don’t get any of the credits.”
Encore Director of Business Development Jesse Stowell suggested potential off-takers look at how they have historically been billed for their energy. Participants are urged not to buy more credits than they use. The recommendation is to purchase credits that could account for 80 percent of a customer’s Green Mountain Power bill.
“You can adjust that but ideally, we want to make sure you have a healthy amount of savings, but you’re not buying more than you can use,” said Stowell.
Other companies are not included in the deal. Also, streetlights cannot be credited.
An annual $100,000 bill could see about $573,000 of savings over the 20-year term, according to Encore. A 27 percent discount on power bills was shown in first-year projections by the company. That’s looking at the credits being applied to 80 percent of a customer’s usage.
“They’re being conservative in their estimated savings here,” said Tad Montgomery, member of the Windham Regional Commission Energy Committee.
“This is a really good deal,” Stowell said. “There’s not going to be anything remotely this lucrative in the foreseeable future.”
Asked what would happen if Sky Solar went under in the next 20 years, Stowell said, “like any business, this would be a valuable asset.”
He said most likely, another group would come in and operate the site. And the worst case scenario would see participants going back to paying their regular power bills.
After 20 years, the agreement has an option to continue for another five.
“This seems to be a no-brainer and win for everybody,” said Readsboro Select Board member Rebecca Stone.
Brattleboro Energy Committee member Ralph Meima gave the project his “seal of approval,” calling it a “tried and true business model.”
Towns were encouraged to think over the proposal and get back to the district.
“We’re not going to bug you guys. You’ve been informed,” WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer said. “It’s not for every town.”