Capital City eyes going solar
By GAYLE HANSON
Correspondent | March 29,2013
MONTPELIER — It’s too early to break into a chorus of “Good Day Sunshine,” but city councilors this week moved a step closer, approving the issue of a formal request for information to explore building a privately developed solar array on a yet-to-be-determined piece of municipal property.
If all goes as outlined by council member Anne Watson, the array could be built at no net cost to the city.
“I’ve read the material, and it sounds fantastic,” said councilor Tom Golonka. “It’s almost too good to be true.”
The project could be funded by the developer through a combination of tax incentives, grants and possible third- or fourth-party funding, according to a draft of a request for proposals that is posted on the city’s website. The array would be hooked up directly to Green Mountain Power’s grid, and the city would receive stable electric rates negotiated with the developer. Rate terms could be negotiated for as long as 10 or 20 years, with the option for the city to purchase the array at the end of the contract.
“I think that we are looking at doing one installation at first, and if that works maybe we would do it again,” City Manager William Fraser said.
Dan Jones, chairman of the city’s energy committee, who was not at Wednesday night’s meeting, said he would encourage the city to explore building several different arrays.
“The city gets a predictable future energy cost, and the bill for the city will be well below the cost from the utilities, so the more we have the more we save,” he said.
Among the potential sites mentioned for the array are municipal land adjacent to the city wastewater treatment plant, and land near Berlin Pond. For the array to be effective it must be located to gain optimum sunlight.
The city would need several acres to install a 150-kilowatt array and as many as seven or eight acres for a 500-kilowatt array. A 150-kilowatt array produces 150 kilowatts per hour on a bright sunny day, while per hour production in the cloud-covered months of winter could drop below 50 percent of that. Both solar power production and electricity demands on the grid are generally highest during summer.
It is too soon to determine the eventual savings such an array could produce, but it is projected to help bring down costs substantially over time.
According to Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure, the power company is seeing an increase in the number of individuals and communities looking to take advantage of the competitive marketplace that is developing around solar energy.
“We’re hearing that it’s not just the incentives,” she said, “but that it’s actually much easier for people to get through the process than it’s ever been.”
A formal request for information generally requires about two days of research to complete, compared with the expense of several weeks of study required for a full-fledged request for proposals. Watson said she expected that the city would receive considerable interest from companies wishing to build and connect the project, and that to take advantage of funding options it would need to be completed by the end of the year.
The Public Service Department produced a new comprehensive energy plan in 2011, which calls for 90 percent of the state’s energy needs (electric, heating and transportation) to be met with renewable energy by 2050.
The council plans to check with other municipalities to see how they’ve fared with similar projects.
“We’re looking at Waterbury, and Williston, and we know they’re doing it in Rutland,” said Jones.