Bennington agrees to buy hydroelectric power
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 07,2013
Patrick McArdle / Staff photo
William Scully stands on the deck near the dam in Bennington which he hopes will soon be producing electricity that will be purchased by the town. The hydroelectric power won’t save the town money, but it won’t cost more and will reduce Bennington’s carbon footprint.
BENNINGTON — The Select Board voted Saturday to buy “green” electricity that’s expected to be produced from a hydroelectric plant in town and give Bennington a greatly reduced carbon emissions footprint.
The vote, which is conditional on a few small changes being made to the deal between the town and Carbon Zero, was unanimous.
William Scully, co-owner of Carbon Zero, has been working on bringing hydroelectric power generation back to the former Vermont Tissue Mill site in North Bennington since he bought it in 2009.
On Saturday, Scully said he expected the comment period on the environmental analysis, which is part of the application for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit, to be closed on Jan. 17, and he hoped a permit would be issued in mid-February.
The site is expected to generate up to about 1.5 gigawatt hours a year. Scully said in addition to the town of Bennington, he expected his restaurant, Pangaea in North Bennington, to buy power, and he is also speaking with village officials in North Bennington and the leaders of the North Bennington Graded School.
The town of Bennington is not expected to get a better price for the electricity it buys from Carbon Zero but it will not cost taxpayers any more than the current rate.
The main condition set by the Select Board on Saturday was the extension of a deadline. The agreement as presented required the town to submit any expenses for compensation that might be incurred to Carbon Zero by the time of the next monthly payment under the net-metering agreement.
Select Board member Jason Morrissey asked that the deadline be changed to “within a reasonable time” so the taxpayers wouldn’t miss out on any compensation the town was due because the paperwork couldn’t be submitted quickly enough.
On Saturday, Scully said he didn’t think that request would present a problem.
According to Scully, the cooperation and assistance of the town and the Bennington County Regional Commission have been “extraordinarily helpful” in making progress on the project.
Because the former paper mill used to generate its own electricity on site using the flow of the Walloomsac River, much of the infrastructure was already in place but Scully’s challenge has been to find the latest equipment and designs so the hydroelectric power generation, which has been inactive for more than 50 years, would meet the state’s current standards and requirements.
The effort required cleaning up the brownfield that Scully inherited when he bought the property and winning over state legislators and staff members from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, who had doubts about allowing work to be done in a river. Scully believes his current plan improves river conditions in concert with hydroelectric generation.
“That’s the goal. How do we make it better? What I’m shooting for here is that (using) the model we’ve taken up here that we want to take up in other places, there is a way for all the stakeholders to win,” he said.
In addition to using the 80-foot dam behind the former mill for generating power, Scully is making plans for use of the mill building as well. He said he expects it to be a mixed-use site with some residential use, with about a third of the building used to develop other hydroelectric projects.
“We should be using hydro in Vermont. Hydro is infinitely more effective than solar. We have a lot of water, we have a lot of changes in elevation and we have a low population. Those are the prime conditions for harnessing hydroelectric so I’d really like to see it,” he said.