Potential Bennington solar project considered at new site
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | June 14,2013
BENNINGTON — Town officials are continuing to work with a Burlington company to bring a solar farm to municipal land but the potential location has moved from the former landfill to a six-acre parcel on the east end of town.
Dan Monks, Bennington’s planning director and zoning administrator, said Thursday the staff of Encore Redevelopment, of Burlington, had found the cost to connect the solar farm at the former landfill on Houghton Lane to Green Mountain Power’s electric grid was more expensive than expected.
“Encore said, ‘We would really like to work with the town but unfortunately the site is not going to work from a financial standpoint. Are there any other sites?’ So we suggested several other sites that the town owned,” he said.
Chad Farrell, CEO of Encore, approached the Select Board in 2010 with the proposal to develop a solar farm at the landfill. Board members were supportive but at the time, the project was dependent on state and federal incentives that ended before it could be developed.
In August, a proposal was made to reconsider the project which would have a number of incentives for the town including a financial benefit for taxpayers from a piece of property that the town owned but which was idle. Because the former landfill is capped, it has limited uses but placing solar panels on top of it would have been one of them.
After hearing that Encore was still hoping to develop a solar farm but wanted to move the project to another municipal site, the Select Board on Monday gave Monks and Town Manager Stuart Hurd permission to negotiate a lease for a spot off Barney Road instead.
While Monks said the staff at Encore would still have to do its due diligence, the site has no known issues because it is not in wetlands or a flood plain and might be in a location where a connection to the existing electric grid is easier.
Farrell said the site would also have to be examined because debris removed from the Roaring Branch after Tropical Storm Irene had been placed there.
“There will be some additional engineering that needs to take place with respect to how the array is actually anchored into the ground,” said Farrell.
According to Monks, the agreements for Barney Road are similar to what was considered at the landfill. The town would offer Encore a 20-year lease with the understanding that the solar farm would be turned over to the town at the end.
The net-metering arrangement is expected to allow the town to buy power at a fixed rate. The project would provide a financial benefit for taxpayers because of the reduced cost for electricity, which could be a significant benefit over the 20 years of the agreement.
Monks pointed out that he and Hurd were only authorized to negotiate agreements, but those would have to be acceptable to Encore and the Select Board. However, he said he thought the authorization was evidence that the Select Board would be supportive of the right renewable energy project on municipal land.
“Neither side is locked in, but both are committed to (reach) a deal,” he said.
Farrell said if agreements can be negotiated successfully, they would like to have the solar farm built by spring of 2014.