Washington County Mental Heath Services is now 90-percent solar because of 258 photovoltaic solar panels atop of its administrative building on South Barre Road in Barre, as well as on a warehouse rooftop in White River Junction.
The system was built by Norwich Solar Technologies of White River Junction and is owned and operated by NST. The system went online in December 2018 and is projected to generate 575,000-kilowatt hours this year, equivalent to the yearly electricity use of 84 Vermont homes.
“The project is not only a sound environmental and business decision, it will also benefit the people Washington County Mental Health Services supports by freeing up critical funds to keep our workforce strong,” said Mary Moulton, WCMHS executive director. The project is expected to save the organization $17,000 this year.
In addition to the financial savings the system will offset nearly 14 million pounds of CO2, the equivalent of 23 million miles not driven, Moulton said.
WCMHS will not use the energy generated directly but rather the electricity will enter the energy grid of Green Mountain Power. WCMHS will get credit on its electric bill.
The system cost $1 million to build including $135,000 for utility upgrades needed at the two locations. There was no cost to WCMHS because an energy investor paid for the project. The investor will be repaid by selling solar power credits at a discount to WCMHS over 25 years.
All solar array owners (if they pay taxes) are eligible to claim a federal tax credit equal to 30 percent of the system cost. This tax credit will be reduced to 26 percent in 2020, and will be reduced yearly until it reaches 10 percent over the next five years.
“Solar can help anyone save money. Whether you own the array directly or buy solar credits to discount your bill, there are ways to ensure savings. In addition to the financial savings, solar projects create local jobs, keep energy dollars in state, and leverage federal dollars into Vermont to bolster our economy and protect our environment,” said Jim Merriam, CEO of NST.
NST handled all details of the project for WCMHS from start to finish, including the permitting and construction and is providing maintenance for the project.
The project, known as a Solar Services Agreement between NST and WCMHS, allows WCHMS to reap the “triple bottom line” of financial savings, positive social impact, and environmental responsibility without the capital expense of purchasing their own solar array, according to Merriam.
“The SSA affords them a known predictable rate for the next 25 years starting below the current utility rates and increasing at less than half the rate of average electrical increases. This means their savings continue to increase over time,” he said.
Why rooftop solar rather that placing the panels on the ground? One reason, according to Steve Snyder, NST marketing director, is because the permit process for rooftop systems is much shorter than ground-based systems.
“The state encourages rooftop installations,” he said. According to Snyder, the rooftop permit can be obtained in as short as 30 days while the permit process for ground-based projects is much longer.
“These savings will help bolster our workforce, which in turn will help ensure that those we serve continue to receive the consistent, high-quality care WCMHS is known for,” said Kirk Postlewaite, WCMHS communications and development director.
“Overall, solar makes up a growing, but still very small percentage of the electrical power generated in Vermont. As we install more solar, we offset the need to buy imported power from Canada and southern New England. Local solar will increasingly be a significant component of our energy portfolio as grid modernization utilizes storage and other technologies to balance generation and loads on a real-time basis,” Merriam said.
WCMHS is a full-service, community mental health center providing mental health and developmental services throughout the Washington County community. Over 8,000 individuals are served annually by this private, non-profit organization with main offices in South Barre. In 2018, WCMHS was recognized as a Center of Excellence by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide advocacy and practice improvement organization. WCMHS is a major employer in central Vermont, with more than 800 full- and part-time staff.
Norwich Solar Technologies specializes in complete end-to-end solar electric services including development, design, engineering, procurement and construction, power purchase agreements, structured financial solutions and operations and maintenance.