By George Harvey
News has come that the town of Norwich, Vermont has achieved a remarkable goal. All of its municipal buildings are powered 100% from local solar power. The town will immediately benefit by a reduction in costs of electricity of about $2000 per year, and once the cost of the system is paid down, its electricity will be practically free, saving $20,000 per year.
The solar system was installed by Solaflect, a local manufacturer of an inventive solar tracking system that reduces system costs. While it is certain Norwich is the first community in Vermont to have 100% of its municipal power from solar power, Bill Bender, CEO of Solarflect, believes it may in fact be the first in New England.
Bender wants to be very clear on what it means to be renewably powered. We live in an era when credit for being renewable can be bought and sold in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs). Many organizations, especially utilities, face legal requirements that some percentage of their power come from renewable sources. If they cannot produce enough renewable energy themselves, they buy RECs from those who can. This encourages others who might otherwise not do so to produce renewable energy and sell RECs. Bender’s point is that if you have solar power and you sell the RECs, you are selling the right to take credit for the renewable nature of the power you produce.
Norwich, in creating the power it uses from renewable sources, is creating RECs. Because the town wants to take credit for the power it creates, it retires the RECs it creates, rather than selling them. So, the town buildings of Norwich really are 100% powered by renewable sources. The decision to retire the RECs was considered by the Energy Committee and approved by the town government.
Linda Gray, who is on the Norwich Energy Committee, says the committee has spent years pushing solar systems. The first thing they did to get the municipal buildings powered by solar was to look into having some organization both finance and install solar photovoltaics. This proved unsuccessful, because it did not produce a good enough deal for the town.
The committee wanted not only to reduce the carbon footprint of the town, but to reduce its costs. While a solar system that had its RECs retired was part of the process, a way had to be found to do it economically. By doing its own financing and working with Solaflect, the committee was able to accomplish what it had set out to do for the town’s buildings.
The committee has pushed the community into Solarize campaigns for some time. The elementary school and the town library, neither of which is a municipal building, have both moved toward renewable solar power. The committee has also enabled local organizations and businesses to have and use solar power. One organization that has worked on this is Dan and Whit’s general store, whose array of twenty panels was installed by Renew Solar.
The municipal system in Norwich is not the first accomplishment of the town’s Energy Committee, nor will it be the last. We offer congratulations and look forward to the next development.
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