Pownal board OKs plan for 3 solar projects

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POWNAL — Green Lantern Group has received approval to assess three potential sites in Pownal for solar generating projects.

The Select Board unanimously approved a lease option agreement with the Waterbury-based firm, which will now study two former town landfill sites and a former Pownal Tanning Co. waste dumping area.

The landfill sites are both near the current transfer station off Maple Grove Road, while the lagoon site is near the Pownal Wastewater Treatment Plant off Dean Road and was part of a major federal Superfund cleanup project on former tannery lands in the 1990s.

"We have experience with landfills," said Ralph Meima, the director of development with Green Lantern, who met with the board on Thursday. "But this will be our first Superfund site."

He said that could pose some new permitting wrinkles for the developers to work through, because of the involvement of federal agencies. The $9 million Superfund project razed the tannery mill on the Hoosic River off Route 346 and removed tanning wastes from the lagoons and surrounding areas for disposal at approved sites.

Essentially, Meima said, solar panels are mounted on capped landfill areas on concrete ballast pads that are designed not to pierce the cap membrane. Each project is proposed with about 150-kilowatt generating capacity, and the electricity produced would be distributed to institutions such as schools or government entities at a discounted rate as net-metering credits.

Meima said the firm will likely approach the Pownal Elementary School, Oak Hill Children's Center and other institutions about accepting a share of the power. Power credits also could go to the town wastewater plant.

Intensive assessment effort

"We are going to do this much faster than we normally do," Meima said Tuesday.

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Anticipating possible changes to the state's net-metering program that could reduce incentives for developers, he said Green Lantern hopes to determine the feasibility of the projects and have permit applications filed with the Vermont Public Utility Commission by July 1.

Performing the site and project assessment work will be a group of engineering, environmental and other companies Green Lantern has worked with in the past, he said. The company has developed 60 small to medium-size solar projects in 50 Vermont towns, and currently is focusing on former landfill and similar sites, which are seen as among preferred sites for solar projects by the state and in many communities.

Meima was asked during the Select Board meeting about offering community solar net-metering credits to individuals, particularly low-income residents.

He said that although some lawmakers have advocated more state incentives to promote such projects, they are generally more difficult to organize than those with a few government entities or non-profit organization accepting the credits for discounted power.

About 30 to 40 participating households would be required to make a project ideal, he said, and property owners typically would have to make a large payment up front toward the project costs.

But other towns have found ways to assist affordable housing groups, homeless shelters or other entities, using the lease money from solar projects, Meima said. He added that Efficiency Vermont or other organizations might provide advice on setting up a fund to benefit low-income residents.

Under the one-year lease option agreement with the town, the firm would make lease payments that Meima said would average about $4,000 per year for each facility.

Green Lantern previously constructed a 500-kilowatt facility on four acres of a privately owned gravelyard off Dean Road, located about a mile from the wastewater plant. Credits for the power generated there go to Mount Snow resort.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com. @BB_therrien on Twitter.


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