Solar project proposed for Manchester

MANCHESTER - At Tuesday's Selectboard meeting, the board authorized Town Manager John O'Keefe to sign the three-year option lease that allows EOS Ventures Vice President John Guerin to potentially construct approximately 12-acres of solar panels in Manchester. The authorization is conditional on a few language clarifications and supplemental documents. The panels would be constructed along the western side of Route 7, near Exit 4, adjacent to the Manchester Airfield.

This solar panel project is a part of the Vermont Sustainably Priced Energy Development (SPEED) program, and would help them reach their goal of generating 20% of total statewide electric retail sales, by January 1, 2017, from renewable energy.

The amount of panels that will be installed is currently an unknown number; Guerin explained that there are many factors to take into account, such as the cost of the panels and the technology used.

"At different times, companies have different capabilities," he explained, continuing to say that if they are given access to higher-power panels then they will not need to purchase as many to reach their goal of 2.2 Megawatts (MW).

One thing that is for sure is that the panels will be fixed panels, not tracking. Guerin said that he was advised against tracking panels because New England weather is not ideal for the moving parts.

Signing of the lease does not guarantee the construction of the panels. This was only the first step in the process. His next challenge is the submission of his bid to the SPEED program for their reverse-lottery.

Any renewable-energy project that meets SPEED's requirements - possessing proof of land control, located in Vermont, and having an output of 2.2 Megawatts (MW) or fewer - must submit an application and a bid by May 1. The maximum bid allowed is 25.7 cents per killowatt-hour (kw/h), and may be submitted up to the fourth decimal place. The lowest bid is awarded the ability to pursue their project, but the bidders are not allowed to change their bid once it is submitted in an attempt to secure a lower bid.

The SPEED website states that "[this is the] first in what will be an annual solicitation for new renewable energy projects until the SPEED Standard Offer Program reaches a cumulative capacity of 127.4 MW."

The amount of MW up for bid in this cycle is 4.5, and the solar panel project will be producing 2.2MW. This means that even if they are outbid by another project they still have a chance, as long as there are 2.2MW left after the winning bidder, or bidders, is awarded.

"It is very possible to be underbid," said Guerin of the current uncertainty of the project, but then clarified that with the signing of this lease, as well as financial information from previous, similar projects in Mass., he is now able to tighten and fine-tune his bid before the deadline.

"I want to put in a bid where everyone wins," he said. Once the applications, and bids, have been received by the SPEED Program, they plan to award the winning projects on May 15. If Guerin's proposal is one of those awarded, he then has three years to commence construction under the three-year option lease. If no construction begins within the three years, Guerin has the option to come before the board again and reapply.

Upon signing the lease, EOS will pay $500 to the town, and $500 for each subsequent six months before the panels are installed and operational. If the panels are completed before the end of the three years, the semi-annual payments need not continue. As soon as construction is completed, the three-year lease option becomes a 25 year lease, paying $50,000 to the town of Manchester per year and accumulating to $1.25 million over the course of the lease. The timeframe of 25 years was chosen from a combination of funding factors and the life cycle of the panels.

The yearly payment includes local and property tax, according to Planning Director Lee Krohn. On top of that, EOS will be paying approximately $8,800 directly to the state of Vermont in education property tax.

Where exactly the annual $50,000 will go, after taxes, is currently uncertain, according to Krohn. He considers it a potential idea to see the money go to completing the undergrounding of utilities on Main Street.

"It would be a wonderful nexus between projects," said Krohn, "and it is supported by the town plan."

However, he also suggested that it is a decision which should involve the opinions of the town as a whole.

The project isn't all strict and serious, however. Guerin was faced with the problem of what to do with the grass in the field on which the panels will stand. Rather than turn to manpower to keep the grasses neat, he turned to sheep power.

"We have included elements that allows a farmer, to be determined later, permission to enter the facility to graze the sheep and set up a shelter for them," said Guerin. "It is unique, it is not common, but it has been done before."

Guerin assured the board that his current goal is to simply try his best to secure a winning bet. However, he did mention that he had plans for if he did not succeed.

"We have the option for three years," he said, "so if we are not successful then we will just try again next year."


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