BENNINGTON --The Vermont Veterans' Home Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to continue pursuing a contract with a company charged by the state with siting solar panels to power the nearby Bennington State Office Complex.
The proposed 500 kilowatt-hour solar array of 83 panels would be placed on empty land the home owns north of its facility. Some 273 KW of this power would be used to run the state office complex annually. In total, the array would generate 750,000 kilowatt hours over the course of a year, producing a net metering surplus power credit of $155,250 a year.
As part of the envisioned arrangement, the Veterans Home would receive 10 percent of this amount annually in savings, about $15,525. The typical project life is 20 years and the estimated dollar savings to the Veterans Home over this time would be $345,000, reflecting a 3 percent increase annually.
This information was presented to Martha Staskus, from Allearth Renewables/Cornerstone Renewables, based in Williston. Allearth Renewables has been contracted to help the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services add solar generation to benefit the state facilities it manages. Most of the company's current activities have been to provide solar to state correctional facilities but plans to provide solar power for other state facilities are on the drawing board.
The solar units proposed are called AllSun Trackers.
The panels would be either 18 feet tall or 20 feet tall, and about 21 feet wide. When flat, they would be 11 feet off the ground. The units are usually about 50 feet apart. A project of this size will take up about five acres, according to Staskus.
On a very preliminary basis, Staskus identified four parcels of land north of the home as possible sites. Two of the sites are currently hayed by a farmer, something that possibly could continue after the panels are installed.
"Any of these projects that we are working on, they go through a full Public Service Board review," she said. "Generation in Vermont is evaluated by the Public Service Board, and so in preparation for that process we do natural resources assessments, cultural assessments, aesthetic assessments."
The review considers agricultural issues and assesses electrical interconnection.
"We need to know all of those parts and pieces: ‘Are there any rare species? Are there any cultural qualities that we either need to avoid or mitigate? Is there an aesthetic impact? Do we need to screen it?'" Staskus said. "There's a lot of multiple-faceted information going into the whole process before you even get to ‘are you going to do it?'"
Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph Krawczyk said: "The important part of that is there's no local permitting required, just by the Public Service Board. We agree on a contract and then it goes in front of the Public Service Board on the docket and they'll make the decision whether it can go here or not."
Staskus noted that the PSB process does include an evaluation of the town plan and the regional plan. "The important thing is to be in communication and provide information to the community up front and so that all the questions and what's going on kind of things are answered before you go into permitting," she said. "There's no reason not to do that."
Krawczyk, who is also chairman of the Bennington Select Board, said the project does fit in with the town plan, and the town is entering a contract with a solar source itself. "So there will be no issues form the Town of Bennington if this thing goes through," he said.
In response to questions about expanding the project to also power the home, Staskus said the current proposal would not generate enough electricity to handle the home's needs and those of the state office complex. Of the possibility of doing a 500 KW project for the Veterans' Home and a 273 KW project for the state complex, "I think that's too many for the land." This would total about 123 of the AllSun Trackers. Staskus said she felt so many would be aesthetically unacceptable, even using all the proposed areas she identified.
However, it might be possible to find another site for the state office complex array, which would expand the opportunities for the Veterans' Home Board of Trustees, she said.
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