GMP solar

Stafford Technical Center students help install the Green Mountain Power solar array at the old landfill in Rutland in June 2015. Solar energy experts are concluding that residential solar development is proceeding faster than commercial.

Green Mountain Power recently announced that, by its figures, solar power in Vermont has seen a sharp spike in its capacity over the last three years.

“Our latest numbers show extraordinary continued growth and the interest our customers have in energy and transformation,” said Josh Castonguay, vice president and chief innovation officer at GMP. “This really drives home the importance of our ongoing work to use the latest innovations like battery storage and controllable devices to drive down costs for the customers we serve.”

GMP’s numbers show that in 2010 there was less than 10,000 kilowatts installed, while in July of this year there were 150,000 kilowatts, enough to power about 30,000 homes in the state.

But not everybody involved in the industry sees it that way.

“We get different numbers for different parts of solar energy,” said Paul Lesure, general manager and partner of Green Mountain Solar, an installation company in Hinesburg. He said his residential business has grown, while the commercial end has become stagnant, making it harder to determine how the industry stands.

As far as residential solar is concerned, Lesure says that the customers are surprised by the low cost of the power.

“People can have a solar system installed for the cost of electric,” Lesure says. “People are realizing that they can afford the technology.”

A spokesman for the only organization dedicated solely to Vermont’s increased, affordable and comprehensive energy use in Vermont, Renewable Energy Vermont, states that there are different ways to look at the issue.

“It’s a matter of perspective. It depends on who you talk to,” said Austin Davis, communications and operations associate for the organization.

“We’re not going to get any favors from Washington D.C.” he continued. “We’re in a place where there is a unique technology.”

The only plus side to his figures is that during the recent heat waves, Davis says, there was a 14 percent savings by going solar.

Why should an energy user in Vermont opt for solar energy? Dan Kinney, managing partner of Catamount Solar in Randolph, said there are two primary reasons to do so: it makes financial sense; and the cost has come down.

“It took a while for society to catch up with itself,” Kinney said. “I think we will continue this trend. But like anything, the political climate can change.”

Another good thing about solar power in Vermont is that coal is not being mined in the state, so it is beneficial for the environment, Kinney continued. Coal has long been blasted for its toxic elements, so many see solar’s advantages.

“I like breathing clean air,” he said. Regardless of the circumstances, Kinney said there is little standing in his way. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

Then there are those who think everything is going well with both markets. James Moore, co-founder of SunCommon in Waterbury, said “There is a steady demand for homes and businesses and moderate growth for larger institutional markets.”

According to Luke Schullenberger, president of Green Lantern Solar, the 30 percent federal tax credit for people who use solar power will be phased out in 2020, so there will be less incentive to get involved in solar at that time. Schullenberger ought to know. Solar Power World magazine recently named the Waterbury company to its list of the nation’s top 20 solar developers and a top 100 solar contractor.

“It’s nice to have the acknowledgment,” Schullenberger said. “Solar Power World is one of the top sources in the country.”

Schullenberger went on to say that there are public benefits from renewable energy. That is because of net metering, which allows users to generate and use their solar electricity credits at any time of day or night, by feeding it into the power grid instead of when it is actually created.

Another new leap in technology is a way to store power through batteries. According to Schullenberger, Green Lantern Power is looking at it, but it has an additional cost.

A second advantage for Schullenberger’s business is a niche for working with schools and municipalities, such as Rutland City, Montpelier, Barre, Bellows Falls and Brandon.

“We are one of the top players in the state,” Schullenberger said. “I think things will slow down because the Legislature wants it to slow down.” That is largely because of tariffs that will go into effect in 2020, he says.

But Davis does not seem too worried about the taxes. “It’s not unique to solar,” he says, adding that there was a big boom during the first 50 years of the technology. In the last two years, though, the numbers have taken a dip. “Now (solar) is all it could be,” he said.

In fact, Davis added, solar will continue to make its mark.

“Solar is our future,” he says.

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