By George Harvey
Vermont and New Hampshire are both seeing much larger solar developments than any previously undertaken. NextEra Energy Resources (NEE) is developing one in New Hampshire, and it will likely be the largest solar array in New England. GroSolar, working with Green Mountain Power (GMP), is also developing what might, at least for a short time, be the largest in Vermont, along with considerable battery storage. Another array in Vermont will probably be that state’s largest, but will be just the first of five of the same size undertaken by Ranger Solar of Yarmouth, Maine.
Hinsdale, New Hampshire
The Chariot Solar Project (CSP) in Hinsdale, New Hampshire will likely be the largest solar farm in New England when it is completed. Originally developed by Ranger Solar, the project was recently sold to NEE, which is continuing the development for up to 65 megawatts (MW), as planned. It will be built on 250 acres of land, which is largely out of sight of neighbors and passersby.
Ranger Solar chose Hinsdale because of its proximity to the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, which closed down in 2014. The power lines used by that plant to feed electricity onto the grid are still in place and useable. This makes the land where the lines are easily accessed especially valuable for either generating electricity or consuming it in large quantities.
The addition of a large solar plant will doubtlessly benefit consumers in the area. The highest demands for power happen during the daytime, when the sun is shining. Solar power can cover much of that demand, especially on hot, sunny days, reducing peak wholesale costs. Since the retail price of electricity is highly dependent on the highest wholesale rates paid by utilities, addition of large amounts of solar power benefits all grid-tied power customers.
Another benefit of renewable energy projects in general is that they pay taxes but have very little need for services from the towns where they are located. Hinsdale has signed a PILOT agreement (payment in lieu of taxes), under which it will receive about $500,000 each year for twenty years in exchange for hosting the solar array.
At present, the project is proceeding smoothly. The select board is very supportive, as are most Hinsdale residents, according to reports. The expectation is that the permitting process will take until sometime in 2018, and the array will be completed in 2019.
A solar project in Hartland, Vermont may turn out to be the state’s largest, at least for a while. It is being developed by GMP, with groSolar undertaking construction. This array is 4.99 MW. The project is of special interest because it will include two MW of battery storage.
The Hartland project is intended to be built on 35 acres of land owned by the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste District. GMP would lease the land for $60,000 per year for 25 years, with two possible five-year extensions. The Town of Hartland would receive $25,000 to $35,000 in taxes each year.
The selectboard of Hartland has been very supportive of this solar array, as it may be of great benefit to the community. Hartland Town Manager Bob Stacey said the land “is not used and the array would not be visible.”
The battery storage will be able to provide power on an emergency basis during outages, but its primary purpose is to help even out peak demand loads, stabilizing wholesale prices and reducing the retail cost to ratepayers. GMP has already tried a similar system in Rutland.
The permitting process for the Hartland project is moving ahead, and it may be finished in 2018.
Coolidge Solar Project
The Coolidge Solar Project (CSP) was the first of five 20-MW arrays Ranger Solar plans for Vermont to be permitted. When it is built, it will probably be by far the largest solar array in the state, as it is four times the size of the next largest planned. It will consist of 82,000 solar panels on 88.5 acres of an old farm in Ludlow and Cavendish, and will need permitting from both communities. Similarly-sized arrays are planned for Brandon, Highgate, Randolph, and Sheldon.
CSP has worked with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to minimize harm to wildlife. It has also worked on landscaping to minimize visual impact of the array.
The Public Service Board has granted CSP a certificate of public good. Its position is that even though the electricity produced at the array will be sold to utilities in Connecticut, it will reduce the cost of electricity to Vermont ratepayers. The board also wrote that CSP “will result in significant economic and environmental benefits for the state of Vermont.” Construction is expected to start within a year.