Manchester considers solar power project
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | April 23,2013
MANCHESTER — At their meeting tonight, the Select Board will be considering a proposed agreement to lease town land to a solar-powered electricity generation project.
No details have been released about the proposal and town officials are not disclosing the name of the company proposing the project. Town Manager John O’Keefe said he didn’t want to identify the company until the Select Board decided to pursue an agreement.
Lee Krohn, Manchester’s planning director and zoning administrator, said he believed the town would be a good site for some type of renewable energy project because they are encouraged by the town plan.
According to Krohn, the proposed project would be sited somewhere on the 60 acres of land in Manchester known locally as the “airport land.”
“It just seemed like a very logical place to consider putting a solar project. You could hardly see it from anywhere. ... We’re kind of holding on to it as a land bank for some unknown future needs (but) a solar project doesn’t require a lot of land development or disruption. It would not preclude some future use in the long term and maybe we could derive some revenue from it in the short term,” he said.
Manchester is also in the middle of a “Community Visit” project, led by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, which helps a town develop a vision for its future. Many of the Manchester residents who took part in the two public meetings for the project have expressed strong support for renewable energy and making Manchester a hub for renewable energy projects in Vermont.
Krohn said he reached out to several companies to see if there was some interest in developing some solar power projects in town. While some made proposals for small projects, there was another company that was interested in what he called a “much larger” project.
Officials at the company making the proposal are hoping to take advantage of Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Development, or SPEED, program which supports renewable energy projects. In order to apply, the company will need to know soon whether the town is willing to agree to a lease.
Discussion of the project is the only agenda item for tonight’s meeting.
While town officials did not disclose the proponent, John Guerin, director of energy development for EOS Ventures of Hancock, Mass., appeared at Select Board meeting in May. At the time, Guerin said EOS was in the “very early stages” of considering a solar project for which the company might lease land in Manchester.
EOS developed a solar project which was built last year at the former race track in Pownal on Route 7, now known as the Southern Vermont Energy Park. The solar power site is owned by Gestamp Renewables, an international company based in Spain that has domestic facilities in California, Florida and New Mexico, because EOS develops, but does not own and operate, renewable energy projects.
On Friday, Guerin declined to comment on whether EOS was the company making the proposal tonight.
Krohn said that if the solar project were to move forward, he hoped the Select Board would consider using the revenue to complete the removal of utility lines from places where they are visible in the downtown. As part of the construction of a roundabout in Manchester last year, a number of utility wires were moved underground or to back lots.
Krohn said residents have expressed strong support for moving the rest of the utility wires from downtown but the problem has been finding the funding.
The meeting, which will be at the town hall, will start at 7 p.m. but O’Keefe said he expected the Select Board to go into executive session at the beginning of the meeting to discuss the proposal. If the board is supportive of the idea, a presentation on what it would entail is likely to follow the executive session.