Two solar farms slated for Chester

By Karen Zuppinger

Solar Renewable artist's rendering

Artwork provided by Solar Renewable. Above is a simulated view of Solar Renewable’s solar farm looking north from VT103 near Wright Farm Road in at the existing field. The original photograph taken at 12:34 pm on November 7, 2012. Click for larger image.

Two large solar farm projects are making their way into Chester.  Representatives from three of the four companies involved attended the Select Board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 20 to make presentations and  answer questions.

The biggest company, Solar Renewable Energy LLC, will locate its project near Route 103 North and Trebo Road.  The Pennsylvania-based company  intends to purchase 96 acres from Ralph Durante, and now plans to carve out a 10.25-acre site that will house between 8,000 and 10,000 fixed solar array panels, producing 2,000 kilowatts of power. Green Mountain Power has a 25-year contract with Solar Renewable to purchase its power.

Rick Mazza of Solar Renewable addressed several concerns, including sightlines.  Mazza said that solar panels could be positioned to minimize visual impact.  Two illustrations showed what the solar farm would look like from Route 103 near Wright Farm and from the top of Church Street. Mazza stated the other area most impacted would be from Marc Drive. He did not have pictures from this view.

Board vice chairman Derek Suursoo asked if there was any audible noise pollution.  Mazza said that he could be as close as 15 feet and not hear humming or buzzing from the panels.

Trebo Road property owner Kirk Kehoe asked Mazza what the plans were for the site once the 25-year contract with Green Mountain Power expires. “I’m concerned that if I chose to sell my property future buyers might have a question about this,” Kehoe said.

Mazza said that he did not know. And he noted that many of the major hurdles to getting the project off the ground had been cleared, and that if everything went according to plan they hope to be up and running by October 2013.

A pre-hearing conference to address Solar Renewable obtaining a Certificate of Public Good will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Friday March 1st in the Public Service Board Hearing Room, Third Floor, People’s United Bank Building, 112 State St., Montpelier.

3 vie for private-public solar partnership

For the second solar farm, three private companies are vying to enter into a public-private relationship with the town, and two presented their plans. The third is Encore Redevelopment of Burlington.

On Wednesday, the two presenting companies both propose to erect a 500 kilowatt solar farm project on public land located on Route 103 next to the water pump station.  Either company would lease the town land  for $10,000 annually plus approximately $15,000  or 10% of the electricity sold, for a total annual income of $25,000 for the town.

Either company would lease the town land  for $10,000 annually plus approximately $15,000  or 10% of the electricity sold, for a total annual income of $25,000 for the town.

Peter Thurrell  of Soveren Solar in Putney, told the board that one reason to choose Soveren was because of the town’s commitment to hiring local businesses. He said most of the materials and workers are located in Bellows Falls.

Thurrell also said that his tracking solar panels produce about 15 percent more energy than his competitors’ fixed panels.

He added that it would take him about eight months to go from permits to final installation. Thurrell urged the select board to move quickly on the project because the tax incentives for investors expire at the end of 2013.  He also noted that Green Mountain Power is only obligated to get four percent of its power from solar. Once it reaches that threshold that funding source goes away.

Board chairman John DeBenedetti asked if Soveren had a private investor in place. Thurrell assured him that he has and that he would be willing to give details to the board in an executive session.

Next up was Rex James representing Florida-based Regions Solar LLC. Regions Solar, which also has offices in Saxtons River, would be subcontracting some of its work through Sovernen but would be the main beneficiary of the profits generated.

James said that his company’s solar farm will cover about four out of the 10 acres of leased town land. It would include about 2,000 solar panels about four feet tall on most sides and up to twelve feet at the highest point.  He added that after 25 years that the panels still produce about 80 percent power.
Regions Solar lease agreement would be the same as its competitors.

DeBenedetti asked if the property taxes on that land would increase if the solar farm was placed there.

Town lister Wanda Purdy said that the taxes would go up because it would be considered a commercial venture.

James said that the state of Vermont has a law that permits towns that wish to be considered solar friendly to waive the property taxes, and that if the town chose not to do so then the cost of paying that tax would be passed onto the town in lower profits.

He added that Regions Solar is willing to negotiate paying most of the cost that the town would incur in legal and administrative fees in getting this project off the ground.  Like his competitors, he said the entire project from start to finish would take about eight months.

During the open question answer session,  James was asked if  the identities of  his investors was public information. He said no. He said that only the select board was privy to that information.

After all the presentations were concluded the select board said that it would take some time to consider each proposal and be in contact once it had made its decision.

Fire truck proposal

The purchase of a new fire truck also came up for discussion. Town manager David Pisha spoke to the company selling truck and was offered a lease to buy option as opposed to purchasing the truck outright. The lease would be for a three year term at an interest of 2.59 percent. The one time purchase price quoted is about $250,000.

Pisha added that the town’s legal counsel said that it could not enter into any type of purchase agreement without calling a special meeting-but since they were on a March 14th deadline (to get a favorable purchase price ) that he had spoken to town meeting moderator Bill Dakin about putting it to the voters at the March 4th town meeting. Pisha thought this would be a possibility but is waiting for confirmation.

If confirmed the item would be put to the town as an amendment to the capitol budget. If the request is denied then a special meeting will be held to vote on the issue.

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About the Author: Karen Zuppinger in a freelance writer and Chester resident. Her work has appeared in Vermont Magazine and Assisi's Online Journal of Arts and Letters. She is a winner of America's Best Short Fiction Award.

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  1. Michael LeClair says:

    I’m concerned about the open meeting law when the solar people don’t want to disclose the name of their investors. As a taxpayer I would like very much to know who is investing in my community. I might just want to research these people.