Alicia Wolfram, Community News Service
A proposed solar farm in Charlotte would see about 12,500 panels lined in rows across 21 acres on Lake Road.
The project, from the application process to installation and upkeep, will be run by Encore Renewable Energy, a Burlington solar company, and according to town planner Larry Lewack, the earliest it could be built is the spring or summer of 2025.
The 5-megawatt solar farm is expected to run for 25 years — after which the panels would be removed or replaced — and bring in between $400,000 and $500,000 in municipal taxes and state education funds. Encore vice president of policy and communications Lauren Glickman said 1.5 megawatts can power about 208 homes in Vermont at any one time. So, the proposed Charlotte farm would power about 693 homes.
The project will need to be approved by the state Public Utility Commission, and Encore expects to have an application in by the end of the summer.
The panels would be set on fixed-tilt, steel racking and enclosed by a fence, said Jake Clark, the firm’s vice president of project development. There would be two transformers and an access road running north from the driveway and leading to the commuter rail station off Ferry Road.
The firm also plans to plant pollinator grasses on the plot and rotate sheep in and out to graze — a practice known as dual-use land, something the Charlotte Energy Committee strongly advocates for, chair Rebecca Foster said.
The hope is that the livestock and grasses would improve soil health on acres that would otherwise only be used for solar generation.
In accordance with goals set in Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan goals, Charlotte aims to meet 90 percent of its overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2050. Broken down, this means 25 percent by 2025 and 40 percent by 2035.
According to Foster, the town has roughly 171 solar sites that produce about 36 percent of its residential electricity. She said the number has probably gone up in the last few months as more and more people are switching to renewable energy.
Under the umbrella statewide goal, Charlotte has its own regulations in place outlined in its town plan.
Whether the Lake Road project will help Vermont make headway toward its energy targets depends on renewable energy certificates, or RECs.
An REC is a form of proof that energy is renewable. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one REC is issued for each megawatt-hour of electricity generated and delivered to the electricity grid from a renewable source.
Since there is no way of tracking the physical electrons back to their exact source, RECs allow people to claim their electricity is coming from a renewable source. They also give people who cannot access or produce their own renewable energy the ability to support the industry.
RECs can either stay in the state where the energy is produced and used, or they can be sold to other states. In the latter case, the energy does not count toward the producing state’s energy goals but rather those of the buying state’s.
Green Mountain Power plans to purchase the 5 MW of power generated at the Charlotte site.
It is still too early in the process to say for certain, said Kristin Carlson, the company’s vice president of strategy and external relations and chief energy services executive, but if the project qualifies for one of the company’s cost-effective solar programs for low-income Vermonters — the Shared Solar Program — then the RECs would stay in state.
“For that program, anything we purchase would stay in Vermont and be retired,” said Carlson.
Clark, who also spoke to the town planning commission April 6, said Encore is in the process of gathering all the data needed to form a complete petition package for the state commission.
“To a large extent that work is seasonal, so a lot of the data collection that we need to do to assess the site needs to be done during warmer months when plants and animals are active and present here in northern New England,” he said.
After the application is submitted, approval can take anywhere from eight to 16 months.
“Until then, we see our role as keeping folks informed about the project and especially letting people know how they can make their voice heard,” said Lewack.
Charlotte has the right to participate in the commission process, he said. This means the town could, for example, request a hearing to give residents an opportunity to speak directly to the members of the commission.
Some residents have expressed concern regarding the project’s interference with scenic views and wildlife habitats.
Lewack said that, while those are legitimate concerns, he does not anticipate they will change the commission’s decision.
“What might be an impact on a few people but have no discernible disadvantages to the rest of town is not going to cause the Public Utility Commission to deny a project,” he said.
According to the planning commission meeting notes, the project would pay into a decommissioning fund to cover the cost of removing the panels after 25 years.
The project will also require easements from Vermont Transco and the Vermont Agency of Transportation to cross their properties.
(Community News Service works in a partnership with The Charlotte News and other local media outlets to provide opportunities to University of Vermont students.)