Williamstown solar array to be among states biggest
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | July 31,2012
Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Work continues Monday on an access road to what will be a solar installation off Route 64 in Williamstown, near Exit 5 of Interstate 89.
WILLIAMSTOWN — A solar farm capable of powering a small Vermont town is under construction just off Interstate 89 and should be pumping out electricity by the time the heating season hits.
The 2-megawatt project, which has been nearly three years in the making, hasn’t gone completely according to script, but Tom Garden, general managing partner of Triland Partners, said it is similar to the one his Massachusetts company put on the table for the state’s consideration in 2010.
Though Triland Partners still owns the 16-acre site just off Exit 5, Garden said his company isn’t driving the design and has opted instead to lease the land to an international firm with a track record for financing and developing large-scale solar projects.
“Our goal was always to do it ourselves, but given the complex financing involved in a project like this, it made sense to bring in a seasoned developer that had done something like this before,” he said.
Enter Gestamp Solar, a company that is based in Spain and has U.S. headquarters in San Francisco. According to its website, last year it participated in the development of photovoltaic solar facilities with a combined capacity of more than 400 megawatts.
Garden said he decided to turn the design of the Williamstown solar farm over to the company because he believed it was in a better position to secure financing for a project that could cost as much as $10 million and provide enough electricity to power about 500 typical Vermont homes.
According to Garden, Gestamp modified Triland’s design slightly before green-lighting construction. He said the project should be finished by the end of October.
“As soon as the site work is done it should come together pretty quickly,” he said.
Hebert Excavation is readying the site a short distance from the Route 64 interchange on I-89. Once that work is finished, Garden said, nearly 9,000 280-watt solar modules — 8,976 to be exact — will be installed in 27 rows.
Due to the topography of the site, the solar farm shouldn’t be visible from the interstate and will be only briefly visible to motorists on Route 64.
That is one of the reasons Garden chose the site — until recently an open meadow featuring a gently sloping plateau, a short distance from one of Washington Electric Cooperative’s existing three-phase power lines.
According to Garden, a planned interconnection with Washington Electric will be the conduit for getting the renewable energy to the state’s electric grid in keeping with the Vermont Energy Efficiency and Affordability Act. The law, which was passed in 2008, mandates that 25 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2025.
According to plans approved by the state, the project will require only a minor upgrade to WEC’s transmission system to accommodate the proposed interconnection. Less than a mile of single-phase electric line will be replaced with a three-phase line that will connect with WEC’s existing three-phase line near the intersection of Stone and Covey roads.
Once complete, the Williamstown solar installation will be among the largest in the state. Only two — one in South Burlington and the other in Sharon — are approved for more capacity. Both are 2.2-megawatt operations.
The Williamstown site is one of three in Vermont that Triland identified for potential solar farms in response to a state program designed to facilitate the private-sector development of renewable electric generation facilities that could be connected to the state’s electric grid. Perhaps more importantly, it was one of only 16 solar projects selected through a lottery developed based on the better-than-expected response to the Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development program.
According to Garden, Triland’s sites in Hartford and Westminster were among roughly 170 that didn’t make the cut.
Triland obtained approval from the Public Service Board before bringing Gestamp Solar on board. One of that company’s subsidiaries has since obtained PSB approval for changes to the facility’s design.
Garden said plans for an ornamental fence have been scrapped in favor of chain link, though an informational kiosk will still be installed to educate visitors about solar power, and a snowmobile trail will still traverse the site.