By George Harvey
Bhima Nitta, the owner of Power Guru, in Bennington, Vermont, told us about a new community solar system in Shaftsbury, Vermont. The Southshire Community Solar project’s first phase was completed in September of 2016. Now, a larger second phase is coming; construction will start in June for completion in September. The Certificate of Public Good application for phase II was filed in 2016, therefore the phase II falls under 2016 net-metering rules.
The Southshire Community Solar project (SCS) is based on the Boardman Hill project, which was finished in 2014 and got subscribers especially good returns on their investments. According to the Vermont Energy and Climate Action Network, Boardman Hill’s subscribers paid a dollar per watt less than those of many other community projects. (http://bit.ly/boardman-hill).
Legal help for Boardman Hill, a very important part of the overall design, came pro bono from the Vermont Law School. The project’s legal structure, fine-tuned a bit by the Vermont Law School, provided important basic elements for the SCS project.
The first phase of SCS had 23 families subscribing, along with two businesses and one non-profit organization. It has a capacity of 91.2 kilowatts (kW).
Now, with that success, the second phase is being readied. Its capacity is 240 kW, so it can have many more subscribers. Power Guru is developing the project, and in March, when we spoke to Bhima Nitta, the project was nearly 50% subscribed.
Each subscriber pays $825 for each share, though the price could end up being lower, and each share covers the installed cost of a single 300-watt solar panel. That comes to $2.75 per watt. Subscribers are limited to buying no more shares than would cover their power bills.
Renewable energy credits are an important issue. Bhima Nitta told us, “Original intent was to insure that the Renewable energy credits do not leave Vermont – the renewable energy credits will be owned by shareholders.”
Like many community solar projects, a family or business that subscribes can apply for federal tax credits to cover part of the cost of their investment. Including a 30% incentive, the pay-back time is eight years for homeowners, or five years for commercial operations.
One problem with giving incentives in the form of tax credits is that people who have little income cannot benefit from them; they have no taxes to reduce with credits. Non-profit organizations can work with SCS for leases. But SCS is also interested in helping people with low incomes, who would otherwise find it hard to get solar power.
SCS has been engaging with Habitat for Humanity, the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless, and Shires Housing to establish the best approaches to helping low-income families have solar power. SCS is also finding ways for others to benefit. It is talking with the Second Chance Animal Center and the Park McCullough House Mansion, which provides educational programs.
One other aspect of the SCS work is that there is an intention to keep everything as local as possible. Bhima Nitta told us, “Local folks wanted to keep things local and were willing to pay a little extra for that.”