Bennington Select Board approves solar project, projected to save $750,000 over 25 years

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BENNINGTON >> The town has given its blessing to a solar project that is projected to save it $750,000 in electrical costs over a 25-year period.

The Select Board voted unanimously Monday to enter into a net-metering agreement with Encore Renewable Energy, a Burlington company, to build a 500 kw solar facility off Route 7, across from the Bennington County Sheriff's Department.

Under the agreement, the town will receive a 15 percent discount on the net metering credits produced by the project over the 25-year life of the contract.

Encore still has to file for a certificate of public good with the Vermont Public Service Board, which oversees energy generation projects.

A new law, however, has given the town the ability to impose its own screening requirements that the Public Service Board must enforce. The Select Board and Encore are both in agreement over this project's screening plan.

This project was first outlined for the board in October by Derek Moretz, vice president of development for Encore. He said for the project to be in the net metering program it has to designate a customer to receive the credits. In this case, it's the Bennington Wastewater Treatment Facility.

After that meeting, the board gave Town Manager Stuart Hurd and Assistant Town Manager Dan Monks, authority to negotiate a contract with Encore that would then be reviewed by the board.

At Monday's meeting, questions were raised about the project's location on what many consider agricultural land. State Rep. Mary Morrissey said the project's location does not fit with the Town Plan which calls for the conservation of agricultural land.

Monks said the plan actually discourages the fragmentation of such lands. Given this is an isolated parcel, it would not be against the plan.

Morrissey also said she would like to see a decommissioning fund set aside when the project is built.

It's likely the scrap value of the panels and other infrastructure would cover the cost of removal, said Moretz.

Board member Donald Campbell said that while he supported the project as proposed, he would like to see it arranged so more of the agricultural land is left open.

Moretz said other configurations were considered, but given the wetlands to the north it's not likely another arrangement could work.

As for screening, the project is largely shielded from view without it, however Encore will put in a number of cedar trees and some other deciduous species that will grow to different heights over time.

This is not the first time Encore has proposed a solar project in Bennington. It's last effort was for a similarly sized facility to be built off Route 9, east of town. It was scrapped after new state laws increased the setback requires for solar arrays. Before that, Encore sought to build on a former landfill.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115


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