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Montpelier Turns to Solar for City Power

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by Ed Sutherland

In March, Montpelier announced plans to become the nation’s first “net zero capital city.” In one of its first steps toward ending the city’s reliance on fossil fuels, Montpelier will turn to the sun. Two solar projects are expected to save city government $50,000 per year in electricity bills.

Built by Montpelier-based Novus Energy Development, the two 500-kilowatt solar projects will power such city services as the water filtration plant, the Union Elementary School and City Hall. Montpelier Planning and Development Director Michael Miller told The Bridge the group net-metering project could provide the city with most of its electricity.

“This project is intended as a step toward making the city government net zero (as opposed to the whole city),” Miller said.

About 70 percent of the city’s electrical usage will be provided by the solar installations.

“The city expects to reduce the remaining 30 percent through efficiency efforts,” Miller added. Miller said the project’s output will power municipal buildings such as City Hall, the city garage, the police station and the fire department.

The net-metering solar generating installations will be located on two private land parcels, one in Montpelier and one in Sharon.

Each installation will have a 4.5-acre footprint, including a perimeter fence, Novus Energy partner Alex Bravakis said.

In 2013, Novus built a similar solar power system for Barre Town. Another solar electricity generating site is being built for Barre City.

Financially, as part of the 20-year contract, the city will pay $11,440 per month to Novus. Montpelier will sell the excess electricity generated to Green Mountain Power, reducing the city’s bill. The city will also get renewable energy credits, which the municipality can sell. In addition, after seven years, Montpelier can purchase the solar electricity generating system.

Although the Montpelier City Council in late May unanimously approved the contract, council member Tom Golonka expressed concerns that more discussion was needed before Miller signed a contract. Golonka told The Bridge his desire was to place the solar projects on public land instead of leasing private property.

“To me that is a lot easier for future decisions. I also want to explore what panels are being used,” he explained. Additionally, if the city were to purchase the solar sites after seven years, Golonka wanted to ensure the panel manufacturers would still be in business.

Golonka owns a financial management firm and previously worked at Wachovia Securities. Novus’s Bravakis said private investment in the solar installation allows the sites to be built without Montpelier being financially on the hook.

The investors — which Bravakis refused to identify — will receive investment tax credits provided to private firms investing in renewable energy projects. The tax credits and other incentives span seven years.

“One thing to keep in mind is that these projects are going to be built, owned and operated by an independent third party, which will be investing between $1.3 million and $1.8 million per project,” Bravakis said.

As for the leasing arrangement with private landowners, Miller and Bravakis would not provide any names. The Log Road property is owned by Peter and Claudia Brousseau, according to Montpelier tax records. The property owners will receive annual lease payments of between $5,000 and $8,000. Additionally, Novus will pay the property tax on the four-acre land parcels, according to Bravakis.

Powering the increase in municipalities adopting solar power is the 2014 state law boosting net-metering limits for utilities from 4 percent to 15 percent. It is no coincidence that Novus and other companies concentrate on solar installations with a 500-kilowatt capacity. That figure is the cut-off for solar systems wanting to take part in the expanded net-metering program.

Before Montpelier and Sharon can begin using the solar-generated electricity, Novus must receive approval from the state Public Service Board. According to Bravakis, the requests will be submitted this summer. Construction could begin as early as three months after the papers are filed.

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