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Cavendish Solar

Cavendish Vermont Installs 148-kW Solar System
Without Financial Assistance!

The Cavendish, VT 148kW PV array is truly hidden. Folks in town want to know where it is and how they can see it. Photo courtesy of Peter LaBelle.

The Cavendish, VT 148kW PV array is truly hidden. Folks in town want to know where it is and how they can see it. Photo courtesy of Peter LaBelle.

By Peter LaBelle

On April 20, 2015, a 148-kW solar photovoltaic (PV) array was dedicated in Cavendish, Vermont. Many New England towns are jumping on the solar power bandwagon, but Cavendish is distinguished as a tiny town that did alone. Voters approved a bond and the town contracted for and installed the system without other financial assistance. What is different about this community solar array is that all benefits will accrue to Cavendish.

The project took several years from concept to power generation, but now provides enough electricity to offset what is used in the town office, the transfer station, the water filtration plant and the waste water treatment plant.

The Cavendish Energy Committee started by considering installers who would provide outside financing. The savings from this turned out to be too small, so the plan fell through.

Then the committee started studying the finances. They found that at current bond rates the town could finance the entire project and when incentives were included in the calculation, the savings would be significantly greater than the financing cost.

In Vermont towns, any municipal bond must be approved by vote in the Town Meeting. Since Vermont voters are notoriously careful about approving bonds, the committee conducted town-wide informational meetings.

Finally, at town meeting, the committee made a full presentation. They covered all aspects of the project with PowerPoint slides and handouts. The presenters concentrated on the dollar savings that could be expected over time. While financing costs are being paid, the savings are substantial, and once the financing is paid off, power will be virtually free.

Cavendish had an unused slope alongside the waste-water treatment plant. It could not be seen from the road or any houses, so there was little objection to using it for a solar array. The final Town Meeting vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the bond. The following day, the town issued a request for proposals. Ultimately, the Select Board chose Prudent Living of Windsor, Vermont to build the array.

Construction began almost immediately and progressed quickly because some incentives would be lost if the project were not completed by December 31st. Land clearing was completed in September, fencing began, and materials were delivered in October. Construction started in November. Prudent Living worked through cold and snow to complete the project over a week early.

As of the first week in May, 2015, the municipal solar PV system had made more than 50,000 kWh of electricity. Peter LaBelle, a member of the Cavendish Energy Committee, commented, “The cost savings have not been determined yet, since the power allocations among the net-metered accounts are still being tweaked. But you can get an idea based on GMP rates and the kWh produced.”

Cavendish will continue working on energy. The town has joined with Weathersfield, Reading, Windsor and West Windsor to participate in Solarize Upper Valley. There is a long way to go for full energy independence, but Cavendish is on the way.

Up-to-date information on how the Cavendish solar array is performing is available at bit.ly/Cavendish-solar-array.

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