Applications for solar projects are coming to more towns around Vermont.
The small Addison County farm town of Panton has heard three proposals for solar projects recently. Another is planned for nearby West Ferrisburgh.
Panton’s largest farm is going solar.
On a weekday morning, a handful of Panton residents are standing in a farm field to hear representatives of Green Mountain Power and contractor groSolar describe plans for a 40-acre solar system that will put five megawatts into the nearby power lines.
Planning Commission Chair David Raphael got the meeting underway.
"This is information only. We're not here to discuss the plusses and minuses,” he told the group.
The solar array could be built on what locals call the “Panton Flats,” a piece of open land bisected by a road. A small creek is nearby, but mostly it’s farm land.
Hans Vorsteveld and his two brothers stand nearby. They plan to lease the land to the utility for the project.
“If we could put it all into solar, we probably would,” Vorsteveld said.
The Vorstevelds farm 2,400 acres in Panton and West Ferrisburgh, so leasing these 40 acres for solar isn’t a big loss.
They see value in solar leases, so they are putting in arrays where possible.
“We already tried different sites and some sites are not suitable,” said Hans Vorsteveld. “I think there’s a limit on how big they’re going to go here in the state. There wouldn’t have a power line big enough to transmit all that power.”
Vorsteveld says the loss of this corn field won’t impact his farm.
GMP’s Dorothy Schnure says the site works well for the utility.
“This is not prime [agricultural] land,” she said. “The farmer is interested in developing this land and it’s a place that we can do it well off the road so there’s minimal visual impact so it seems to have all of those benefits to it.”
She says solar projects like this generate the most power on a summer day — a time when power from other sources is expensive, and it helps meet a goal of a more distributed power grid.
“It’s close to the electric grid where we need to reconnect and so economically, it’s very beneficial to our customers, and we think that it fits well within the town,” she said.
“I think we all have an open mind,” Raphael said.
Most of the residents and town officials are just trying to learn more about the project, but one person asks why these solar projects are being scattered around Panton, instead of just creating one large solar site.
“Why can’t we just add 12 acres to this site instead of having four acres here, 4 acres there?”
The Vorstevelds are also working with a different company called Green Lantern to develop three smaller 500 kilowatt net-metering projects, each about four acres. Two will be at other sites in Panton, one will be in Ferrisburgh.
Power from at least two of those planned arrays will benefit the dairy farm’s milk cooperative, Agri-Mark/Cabot. Hans Vorsteveld says the idea for those projects came from an email from the co-op looking for suitable sites.
“We had reached out to our members, our dairy farmers, because ultimately we were hoping we could have a little bit more of a closed loop system, where members of the cooperative were hosting the solar arrays that ultimately provided the electricity to help run the creamery,” said Jed Davis, director of sustainability for Cabot.
Davis says the Vorsteveld’s farm had sites that met the requirements, like proximity to three-phase power and southern exposure. He says Cabot is interested in the economic benefit of a long-term power contract as well as reducing the impact of their energy consumption.
The four Vorsteveld Farm solar projects are in different stages of planning. If they’re approved, they could be built next year.