Members of the South Burlington Energy Committee gather at the site of the city’s newly approved solar project - the closed landfill on Airport Parkway. (L-R) City Councilor Meaghan Emery, Patty Tashiro, Linda McGinnis, Don Cummings, Keith Epstein, and Marcy Murray.

Solar Array Approved for Closed Landfill

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Thursday October 20, 2016

After being closed and capped almost 25 years ago, the old landfill at the end of Airport Parkway is being repurposed as the location for a newly approved solar project, which is projected to save South Burlington taxpayers millions of dollars in energy costs over the next 25 years. The City of South Burlington has received a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board to install 2.15 MWdc (1.5 MWac) of solar on the eight acre landfill which was closed in 1992.

In 2014, the Vermont legislature under Act 99 expanded the net metering program to permit solar arrays up to five megawatts on closed landfills. Seizing the opportunity for the landfill, the city hired Encore Renewable Energy–a local clean energy company focused on commercial, industrial, and community scale solar PV systems–to develop the project.

Encore Renewable Energy is also responsible for facilitating the net-metering credit purchase agreement with the project’s owner, Altus Power America, a Connecticut-based solar investment company. The energy generated will be sold to the city’s electrical power provider, Green Mountain Power. The city will then receive credits on the electric bills for specific meters at municipal and school district facilities.

The credits will be divvied up in three phases: first the city will use up to a certain amount of credits, then the school board will use the next portion, with the city having access to any remaining credits. Thus, both the city and school district have an opportunity to maximize their credits.

“We will absorb those credits, both city and school, saving millions of dollars over 25 years for the taxpayers,” City Manager Kevin Dorn said. “It’s a win-win-win-win situation for everyone – for Altus, for the city, for the school district, for the taxpayers, for the environment.”

Projected savings could be anywhere from $2 to $5 million; these figures are based upon what future rates might be, Dorn explained. The project will generate roughly 2,665,000 kWh annually, an amount that could generate power to nearly 400 average Vermont homes.

“This project represents the type of public-private partnership that is so important to South Burlington’s continued development,” City Council Chair Helen Riehle said. “By working with a local solar development company, Encore Renewable Energy, we are contributing to the local economy. The project itself will create income for the city while generating electricity in a location proximal to significant electrical demand.”

Linda McGinnis, a member of the South Burlington Energy Committee and former director of Vermont’s Energy Siting Commission, shared similar sentiments.

“I can say unequivocally that this South Burlington Solar Landfill project is exactly the type of project that the whole state can be proud of for years to come,” she said. “It is truly community-driven. It repurposes a landfill for a public priority - low cost clean energy. Thanks to a unique public/private partnership, it saves millions in taxpayer dollars over 25 years for our city and schools with no capital outlay. It generates tens of thousands of dollars in new property tax revenues. And it allows our city and schools to shift a large portion of their electricity consumption to solar.”

The Public Service Board awarded the city with the Certificate of Public Good last Wednesday, after a brief pause when the City of Burlington challenged the project. Burlington asserted that the solar project might interfere with plans for an access road to Interstate 89, as outlined in Burlington International Airport’s 2030 Master Plan, a document that was devised by the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the City of Burlington. The Public Service Board granted the City of Burlington involvement in the hearings, known as intervenor status, in September.

South Burlington, owner of the land, pushed back, explaining that the new road is not indicated anywhere in the South Burlington Comprehensive Plan or the regional plan. Rejecting the solar project based on construction of a future road–which has not undergone an engineering study, has not been brought to the Federal Aviation Administration, and has not received funding–would be a lost opportunity for South Burlington taxpayers.

Receiving the Certificate of Public Good marks the culmination of years of work. South Burlington Energy Committee member Don Cummings remembers first visiting the site in 2010.

Chad Farrell, president of Encore Renewable Energy, thanked members of the committee for shepherding a project that can serve as a model for the state for decades to come.
The project is expected to break ground in the first or second quarter of 2017, with about 6500 panels positioned in approximately 300 racks.

South Burlington’s energy efforts are ongoing. They are also working with Commons Energy, a low profit comprehensive energy solution for community and municipal facilities, to “assess our efficiency and conservation opportunities to finance and install equipment and upgrades to make efficiencies real and gain even more savings for taxpayers over time,” Dorn said.

The city also recently installed efficient heating units for the South Burlington Fire Department and Public Works.

On the school side, the district aims for improved efficiency by means of its Stewardship Plan.

All of these efforts tie back to the city’s involvement in the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. In the meantime, the city and school district will be counting their credits as they roll in over the next 25 years.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our community,” McGinnis reiterated. “This is something we should all be celebrating.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent