BRATTLEBORO – After years of work by local officials, state regulators have given the go-ahead for thousands of solar panels to be built atop Brattleboro’s former landfill.
The 5 megawatt project at Windham Solid Waste Management District will cover roughly 13 acres. And it’s expected to spread financial benefits throughout Windham County via net-metering credits for towns and schools.
In approving the project, Vermont’s utility regulatory board said the size of the solar array will not be a drawback due to “advantageous siting” at the landfill off Old Ferry Road.
“Normally a solar facility of this size would have some adverse aesthetic impacts on the surrounding environment just by virtue of its scale and visibility,” state regulators wrote. “However, in this case, the project will be sited on a closed landfill in a heavily developed industrial area.”
Windham Solid Waste, which has 19 member towns, provides waste management services and maintains a 30-acre landfill that is closed and capped.
Bob Spencer, the district’s executive director, recalled that solar developers initially approached the district to propose construction of a much smaller landfill array.
Given the time, expense and permits required, “it just didn’t seem worth it,” Spencer said.
Things changed in 2014, when state energy legislation included language allowing a net-metered solar array capable of generating up to 5 megawatts to be constructed “on a closed landfill in Windham County.” Previously, such a large solar project would not have qualified for net metering.
“That opened up the possibility,” Spencer said.
The district’s staff and board looked for the right developer, eventually settling on San Francisco-based Pristine Sun.
The project appeared to be in jeopardy last year when Pristine Sun ran into financial troubles and stopped work. But Hong Kong-based Sky Solar quickly stepped in, buying the Brattleboro project and partnering with Burlington-based Encore Renewable Energy to move the landfill initiative forward.
Sky Solar will construct and own the array. Encore handled development work such as permits and signing up customers – also known as off-takers – who will use net-metering credits to offset their utility bills.
Spencer said that “we have 100 percent subscription to the 5 megawatts.”
The off-takers include eight towns: Brattleboro, Dummerston, Halifax, Newfane, Readsboro, Vernon, Wardsboro and Wilmington. Also involved are Brattleboro Union High School and elementary schools in Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Vernon.
Additionally, Marlboro College, Landmark College, the Brattleboro Retreat and the waste district itself will be in line for utility savings due to the solar array.
The district also benefits in another way, receiving about $100,000 a year in lease payments from Sky Solar. Given that Windham Solid Waste is undergoing major changes by closing its recycling center, Spencer said that cash flow will be “a good thing for the district during this time of transition.”
Spencer said construction of the landfill array will start later this year, with completion expected in the spring.
“It’s satisfying to see all this work come to fruition,” he said. “Literally, hundreds of hours were put in by a volunteer board.”
But nothing could happen without the state’s permission, and that finally arrived Friday via a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board – which, as of this week, has been renamed the Vermont Public Utility Commission.
Commission members noted that the array will consist of about 16,000 solar modules. At one point, the Brattleboro landfill project was the largest solar facility proposed in Vermont, but it’s since been eclipsed by much bigger projects.
The utility commission’s order details electrical system interconnection requirements, and it sets up a decommissioning plan to be supported by a $247,757 letter of credit from Windham Solid Waste.
While commission members offered a few relatively minor environmental restrictions, they generally found that the landfill array won’t have “undue adverse effect” on natural resources and aesthetics.
The project is surrounded by commercial/industrial properties, and “the closest residence is located in New Hampshire, approximately 895 feet from the array,” commissioners wrote.
“The project will have limited visibility from most nearby vantage points and will not be visible from the Connecticut River,” they added.