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The proposed site of solar panels would lie to the northwest of Charron Pond at the Vermont Veterans’ Home. (Mark E. Rondeau)
The proposed site of solar panels would lie to the northwest of Charron Pond at the Vermont Veterans’ Home. (Mark E. Rondeau)
The proposed site of solar panels would lie to the northwest of Charron Pond at the Vermont Veterans’ Home. (Mark E. Rondeau)

BENNINGTON --The Vermont Veterans' Home Board of Trustees is considering a proposal to allow 87 solar panels on unused land it owns northwest of the Veterans Home complex and north of the State Office Building.

As a result, the home could get up to a 10 percent reduction in its annual electric bill.

At the Dec. 11 Trustees meeting, Administrator Melissa Jackson said she and Deputy Administrator Al Faxon met with Cornerstone Renewables, of Williston.

Vermont is looking to make its state buildings more green, and one of these is the State Office Building in Bennington.

"Cornerstone has asked for permission to use our property to install these solar panels," Jackson said.

The panels would be either 18 feet tall or 20 feet tall, about 20 feet wide, and weigh about 1,800 lbs. each. In addition, they would be 50 feet apart and actually track the sun. The panels could lay flat like a table to enable mowing the grass around them, Jackson said.

The panels will be connected to an interface power hookup at an electric pole located on North Street. The units would be in an area northwest of Charron Pond, which the veterans use for fishing, and bordered by the Roaring Branch to the north. The site would be just east of Route 7 but largely obscured by a line of trees.

Jackson said the Trustees basically had three choices. "We can do nothing, and the State Office Building doesn't get their green power," she said. "We can agree to have the panels put in and you would receive a 5 percent reduction in the cost of our electric bill, or we can tap into the system and receive a 10 percent reduction, which will be anywhere between $36,000 and $40,000."

The earliest the project could be installed is the end of 2014, she said. Jackson said there would be a 10-year operational and maintenance agreement.

"If we decide to do this, it could save a bunch of money on an annual basis in allowing them to net meter with us and we would net meter with them in order to gain the benefit of the reduced usage of power that's already on the grid," said Joseph Krawczyk, board of trustees president.

This proposal is part of a state program to look for ways that state buildings can hook up to renewable energy sources.

"I think we have something to gain here, if it can be pulled off. Even if we say yes, it still has to go to the Public Service Board," Krawczyk said. "The Public Service Board's going to act on this as far as giving them the regulatory way to go about this, permission to go ahead with these things."

The units would not interfere with any home activities. However, the site is in a flood plain so studies will be have to be done, Jackson said.

Dr. Jacqueline Kelly said that when the Veterans' Home open opened after the Civil War, part of the land was used for agriculture and that helped sustain the home. "So in a sense this is modern agriculture," she said.

Captain Brenda Cruickshank recommended contacting the town of Williamstown, Vermont. "As you come up the Interstate on I-89, exit 5, there's 150 of those right there, and there's apparently some issues," she said. "I might have hear that rumor wrong, but I would suggest contacting Williamstown for rumor control."

An Internet search on Thursday for reported problems with the Williamstown facility did not yield any results.

As for any possible visibility issues at the home site, "we've had it come up with other things we've done here in town -- the people are concerned with the vistas and that kind of thing," Krawczyk said. "I'm sure that will be looked at. These (panels) are not generally as high as some of the ones we've seen in other places."

"One of the reasons they picked this location was because that tree line we were talking about -- that would hide a lot of that," he said.

The Board of Trustees ended the discussion by voting to allow Jackson to continue negotiating with Cornerstone Renewables and then report details back to the board.

Contact Mark Rondeau at mrondeau@benningtonbanner.com or on Twitter @banner_religion