August 30, 2014

Selectboard greenlights solar project

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No decision on Lamplite Acres stormwater proposal

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard approved a solar energy plan Monday that will generate a quarter of the town’s annual power demand, but deferred a decision on a plan to alleviate stormwater flooding in the Lamplite Acres neighborhood.

The solar energy project calls for the installation of 26 AllSun Trackers from Williston-based AllEarth Renewables Inc. on municipal property behind the Williston Town Hall.

While the town will only see savings of around $2,000 per year for the next six years, it has the option to purchase the solar trackers after year six for either fair market value or the preset purchase option price of $338,738, whichever is higher. According to figures crunched by Williston Finance Director Susan Lamb, the break-even point on the investment will occur in 2025, with cumulative savings of more than $900,000 realized by 2037.

The project will be financed through a 25-year solar energy services agreement with Waterbury-based consulting and asset management group Green Lantern Development, doing business as GLC Solar Gen II LLC.

Luke Shullenberger, a managing partner of Green Lantern, told the Selectboard on Monday that his firm is working on packaging a series of statewide solar investments from school districts and municipalities—including Williston—into a bundled investment portfolio for companies seeking targeted tax-incentivized investments. Unlike tax-exempt municipalities like Williston or Rutland—which has its own municipal solar project in the works—firms in the private sector can receive tax credits through investments in solar energy.

“I promise I will be very transparent who the investors are soon, but they are two iconic Vermont companies who are going to be investing in this portfolio,” Shullenberger said.

Selectboard member Chris Roy asked Shullenberger if the town should be concerned about the durability of the solar trackers over the course of the 25-year agreement.

Shullenberger responded that Green Lantern views the bases the trackers sit on as a “75-year investment,” and that the panels can easily be swapped out if significant technological advances are made in the next quarter century.

The most important structural component of the trackers, Shullenberger said, is the hydraulic system that allows the GPS-based solar trackers to pivot toward the sun. He remarked that the hydraulics are non-proprietary and are similar to technology used in farm equipment, making them easily repairable.

Although the Selectboard authorized Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire to sign the solar energy services agreement on Monday, the project is still pending approvals from the Vermont Public Service Board and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. The VHCB isn’t scheduled to meet again until early November, according to McGuire.

“If it gets all the approvals in early November, I’m thinking they (AllEarth) want to get these (solar trackers) installed by the end of this calendar year,” McGuire said.

LAMPLITE ACRES STORMWATER PLAN

The climate in the Town Hall meeting room turned from sunshine to rain following the solar panel discussion, as talk shifted to a proposal designed to mitigate stormwater impacts in Lamplite Acres, a neighborhood located off North Brownell Road that experiences excessive stormwater surface ponding during the annual spring thaw.

Williston Public Works staff and representatives from Stantec Consulting Services Inc. previously met with Lamplite Acres residents during a pair of public meetings on June 13 and Aug. 15. At the latter meeting, Greg Goyette of Stantec revealed a recommended course of action, which involves the installation of infiltration trenches and roadside rain gardens in flood-prone areas of the neighborhood.

Public Works Director Bruce Hoar explained Monday that although the project is still in its initial scoping phase, the endorsement of the Selectboard is requested so that Public Works staff can pursue grant funding. Stantec estimates total project costs to be upward of $300,000.

Roy raised the question of whether it is equitable for the town—and by extension, town taxpayers—to foot the bill for the project, when other neighborhood homeowners associations have been required in the past to make specific contributions to stormwater management.

Hoar pointed out that the flood-prone areas of Lamplite Acres are located in the town’s right-of-way.

“This is a little bit different, in my opinion, in that it really is an older neighborhood, but it’s definitely just the roads that we’re talking about here,” Hoar said. “We’re not saying we’re fixing anybody’s stormwater system, besides what we own.”

Hoar added that the board doesn’t necessarily have to commit to the entire six-figure project investment, and could instead choose to initially target only the most affected areas of the neighborhood on a pilot basis.

“That’s what’s kind of unique about this whole approach, is that you don’t have to go in and just build this whole thing right away or at once,” he said.

On Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs’ suggestion, the Selectboard agreed to continue the stormwater discussion at its next scheduled meeting on Oct. 22.

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