Community Solar On The Ballot In Lamoille County

May 27, 2015

Earlier this month, voters at the Annual Village Meeting in Hyde Park passed a $3 million bond question to build a 1-megawatt community solar project. On Thursday, Stowe voters will consider spending up to $3.5 million on a similar project. Both towns plan to fund the projects through zero-interest federal Clean Energy Renewable Bonds. The deadline to apply for funding is next week.

Both Hyde Park village and the town of Stowe have municipal electric departments, and in both cases the bonds would be repaid from electric department revenue. In addition, Hyde Park secured a $76,000 grant in 2014 to help pay for its project.

The vote in Hyde Park passed 96-26. Now that voters have approved the bond question, village officials must apply for the Clean Energy Renewable Bonds by June 3. The next steps include deciding on a location for the project, hiring a contractor and securing the necessary permits. Then the village will proceed to apply for a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board. Once those details are ironed out, officials say, a second vote will be held before the project is constructed.

According to minutes from a public informational meeting held in April, the project will require between six and seven acres, and several sites in the town of Hyde Park are under consideration.

The Town of Stowe has already chosen a location for its project. The town plans to locate the solar array at its former gravel pit on Beech Hill Road, in Nebraska Valley. However, the Stowe Electric Department Commissioners, in a letter on the department's website, acknowledged the June 3 federal deadline has rushed the project to a vote.

Ideally we would have liked to have more time to gradually introduce the community to the idea of developing solar generation in our town, and to the benefits it will provide, and then have robust conversations to determine various solutions for Stowe. The short window of availability of this interest free financing has forced us to move faster than initially intended.

The commissioners went on to give three reasons why they think voters should approve the bond question on May 28:

  1. Financing this project ourselves, using Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, will allow us to own the project from day one and this financing method conservatively represents $1.3 million savings over the 30-year life of the project, when compared to other financing models.
  2. The benefit of owning the project directly allows the ratepayers to reap the benefits of the facility’s “behind the meter” generation. Behind the meter generation, meaning electricity generated in Stowe’s service territory, will provide a yearly savings of conservatively $83,000 in energy and transmission costs. This electricity does not need to be purchased from someone else or “carried” over poles to Stowe, avoiding high transmission charges. There is no more economical method than producing electricity on land right here in Stowe.
  3. Having the facility sited on town owned land will provide a revenue stream to the town via lease and tax payments that will total approximately $500,000 over the 30 year life of the project.

Both the town of Stowe and the village of Hyde Park say a 1-megawatt community solar project will help their electric departments meet upcoming state mandates for making small-scale, locally-sourced power part of their portfolio.