New Solar Energy Project Proposed for Bristol

By MARC ARNOLD

The thicket of aluminum crossbars, rising high and gleaming in the sunlight, could easily fill several football fields. Now these solar arrays are making an appearance all over Vermont with the latest installation scheduled for Bristol. 

GroSolar, a renewable energy development and services company, hopes to build a 4.99 megawatt solar farm in the open field west of Route 116 across the road from A Johnson Lumber Co. in Bristol, Vt. The proposed solar array project would provide enough energy to power about 1,200 to 1,400 homes.

This new installation is just one in a series of projects to boost Vermont’s renewable energy resource. With the permanent closure of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant at the end of 2014, Vermont is producing less than 40 percent of the electricity it consumes and depends on power from the New England grid and Canada. As a result, state officials have been looking to alternate sources of energy.  Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) of Vermont has pushed for 90 percent renewables by 2050 as a hallmark of his administration.

In 2015, nearly all of Vermont’s in-state net electricity generation was produced by renewable energy, including hydroelectric, biomass, wind, and solar resources. In fact, Vermont has enacted the nation’s first integrated renewable energy standard (RES), which makes utilities responsible both for supplying renewable electricity and for supporting reductions in customers’ fossil fuel use.

Last year, $106 million was invested in solar installations in Vermont, which was an increase of 39 percent over 2014. The total investment in solar projects is expected to increase substantially again this year. Over the next five years, Vermont is expected to install 569 megawatts of solar electric capacity.  That is more than six times the amount of solar installed over the last five years in Vermont, according to Solar Energy Industries Association.

One consequence of the state’s overheated solar market was a bumper crop of solar panels sprouting up in Vermont’s meadows and fields, like the proposed project for Bristol. This was troubling for a number of people, and the Public Service Board attempted to address the situation in its new net metering rules that went into effect Jan. 1, 2017. For the uninitiated, net metering allows electricity customers to receive payment from utilities for renewable energy they generate in excess of what they use. The revised rules will give preference to development in what is known as “built environments” such as landfills, rooftops, brownfields and unused gravel pits.

Commissioner Chris Recchia of the Public Service Department has been quoted saying the new rules discourage — or do not encourage — as many  solar projects on open fields because of the impacts on farmland. Beyond that, many would argue that the solar farms are a blemish on the pristine, billboard-less highways of Vermont, a feat accomplished by the state’s sign policy which prohibits signs that are placed by private individuals or organizations that allude to an event, sale, organization, etc.

Vermont’s largest solar project to date is a 4.7 megawatt project in Williston run by Green Mountain Power. It features around 20,000 solar panels on 55 acres owned by computer chip manufacturer GlobalFoundries. 

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