A developing partnership leads to a lot of solar in Vermont’s grid
By George Harvey
Sometimes it is astonishing how much can happen in a short time. Renewable power, especially solar power, can be installed so fast it would seem to make a person’s head spin.
We first got word that Green Mountain Power (GMP) was considering a solar farm in Williston in June of 2015. They were considering buying land from IBM and having groSolar install the array. Of course, the idea was still tentative as talks with IBM had not gone all that far yet. Among other things, it would be necessary to get a certificate of public good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board, which takes time and entails numerous studies relating to disciplines as divergent as archeology, storm water, and aesthetics.
Only a month after the idea first appeared in the news, IBM did sell the land, but not to GMP. Instead, it went to GlobalFoundries, which bought the entire Williston plant, taking over IBM’s semiconductor business.
GMP readjusted its goal, but only very slightly. It would lease the land from GlobalFoundries. This was not a bad deal for either, because GlobalFoundries would buy power from GMP, some of which could be supplied from the solar panels on the land GMP was leasing.
GroSolar was still the installer of choice. It did design work as permitting was being pursued, and when the CPG was issued, the actual construction could begin. Based in Vermont, groSolar has worked all over the United States. Though the Williston array would be one of the largest in the state, it was well within the company’s capacity.
GlobalFoundries would use 500 kilowatts (kW) from the array, but that was to be only a small part of what would be a really big system, by the standards of Vermont. In fact, it would be only a little more than a tenth of the array’s capacity. In the end, the array was to be 4.7 megawatts, so it could produce enough electricity to supply the annual needs of 1,100 area households.
Others will benefit from the system, as well. As it happens, the GlobalFoundries site has another interested tenant. There is a lot of work still to be done developing photovoltaics, and testing has to be done under a wide range of circumstances. Sandia National Labs has five test facilities relating to weather conditions, and the one for somewhat cloudy weather that can get cold, the Vermont Photovoltaic Regional Test Center (RTC), happens to occupy space at the GlobalFoundries site in Williston.
GMP, which owns the solar panels, is providing all the data relating to production of power through the Vermont seasons to the RTC. This provides a wealth of information to Sandia National Labs that can be used to improve future generations of solar systems to be used in harsh winter conditions, such as we have in the Northeast.
With all the work that was required, we might think this project would be less than half done in the time since it started up. In that expectation, however, we would only show how surprisingly quickly large solar systems can be installed.
The work is done. The commissioning ceremony took place on November 29th. Just over eighteen months have passed since the slightly tentative idea was first made public. And now, GMP can collect about eight million kilowatt hours with each passing year, without having to buy or burn even a whiff of fossil fuels.