Solar projects move ahead in Pownal

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POWNAL — Green Lantern Solar is moving ahead with two of its planned solar arrays in Pownal, while a third is on hold pending the results of an environmental study of a former town landfill site.

Ralph Meima, director of development with the solar firm, presented an update to the Select Board last week.

The three projects, all of which include lease-option agreements signed with the town over a year ago, are "in very different places," he said.

A project called Pownal Transfer East, also located on a former landfill site, is coming along smoothly, although there have been "lots of loose ends to tie up," Meima said.

The array will be a net-metering solar facility. An off-taker was identified for electricity credits from the planned 150-kilowatt facility — a school in the Essex School District. The site is on a rise above the town transfer station off Maple Grove Road and has a number of white landfill vent pipes, Meima said.

Last summer, Meima said, he also tried to convince the Bennington, Pownal, Shaftsbury and Woodford school boards to buy reduced-cost net-metering credits from the project, but they decided not to.

Green Lantern Solar is waiting for a contractor to finish its engineering recommendations and an application for a post-landfill closure certificate amendment. If the state Department of Environmental Conservation approves, Meima said, construction can then begin.

A second project, also planned for 150-kilowatt capacity, is near the transfer station as well; it's separated from Pownal Transfer East by the transfer station and its access road. The two sites are located on opposite sides of the access road, both off Maple Grove Road.

Meima said he's waiting to see what happens with a planned environmental study of the older former landfill site to the west of the transfer station. Problems with the landfill covering emerged after Green Lantern Solar expressed interest in the site and officials walked the property.

It was "blatantly obvious" that the site had not been covered properly, Town Administrator Michael Walker has said.

"It's anybody's guess at this point," Meima said. "We had all the materials put together for a permit application, so [we'd] like to move ahead with that whenever possible."

A third site is across from the town wastewater treatment facility in North Pownal. That project is moving forward again, "and the hoops it needs to jump through are pretty limited," Meima said.

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The town, the DEC and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are trying to determine what is needed for the permit application, he said.

The area is a Superfund site, once a dumping lagoon for waste material from the former Pownal Tanning Co. factory, which has since been razed as part of a multi-million dollar Superfund cleanup project, he said. The former dumping area also was included in that cleanup project.

The site has been remediated, and it's "under control and stable," Meima said.

The Vermont Public Utility Commission must issue final approval for solar energy projects. Those located on former landfill or brownfield sites have been given preference under siting regulation, and Green Lantern Solar has said the firm is planning projects at several such Vermont sites.

Meima said it's his understanding that Pownal is a net-metering off-taker of renewable energy, but the town isn't maxing out what it's able to purchase.

Buying net-metering credits saves a municipality, business or other entity money on discounted electric bills. The credits are applied to electric bills.

Pownal would also gain financially through the planned arrays from leasing fees — $3,800 per project, per year for 10 years, Meima said. State and local taxes would also be paid on the value of the solar equipment.

At the Select Board meeting, board members expressed both support and caution toward taking net-metering credits.

"If it saves us energy dollars, then we should be doing it," said Marlena Pellon said.

Bob Jarvis cautioned that the board could be signing up for something that is "somewhat permanent," but there could be changes to net-metering regulations.

Meima said the goal is for Pownal to be an off-taker of power credits from at least one of the planned facilities.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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