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Mt. Rainbow Community Solar Array

The Rainbow School, in Woodstock, VT. Courtesy photo.

Green Energy Times Staff with Tesha Buss

Tesha Buss has had more than her share of renovating houses in Vermont. In fact, she had completed three of them when she decided to add solar electricity to the barn apartment where she lived in Ludlow, Vermont. For guidance on that, she reached out to Dave Bonta at Sundeavor.

Bonta started with a good look at the situation, not just to answer the question of siting and sizing a system, but also at the overall energy use and efficiency at the site. Looking back on that experience, Buss said, “Dave opened my eyes to all energy-efficient technologies for my leaky, lofted barn apartment and my 185-year-old retreat-home business: retrofit insulation techniques, mini splits, heat pump hot water heaters and the payback on solar power.” They went through the numbers, which all made sense to Buss, and that was the beginning of a business relationship that turned out to be ongoing.

Site plan for the 150kW Mt. Rainbow community solar array. Image: Sundeavor.

Buss found a daycare center for her daughter Izabella when she turned two, Rainbow Playschool. Rainbow was a well-established organization, having gone through thirty-six years of operation. Because Buss was both the mother of a child in the playschool and a business woman, she quickly became a member of the school’s board. One of the first things on the agenda at the time she joined was the utility bill of $17,000, and so it was an immediate topic on which to focus her attention. And because she had been through all the renovations, including energy retrofits and solar installation, she knew immediately what needed to be done at the school. When she explained it to the board, she got approval very quickly to go ahead with her work.

For her next step, she knew exactly what to do. She said, “We engaged our friends Pete from Vermont Spray Foam and Nick from Paquette Plumbing and Heating for our retrofit insulation and heat pump technology needs. The next call was to Dave Bonta.” She asked him, “How could we afford a solar array that would power seven heat pumps for 7000 square feet of space?”

She and Bonta sat down to a number session, which she described. “Dave and I are dreamers, outside- the-box thinkers and extremely frugal! Our pencils went to work right away crunching numbers and asking questions. Rainbow owns the land so there will not have to be a land lease cost. I wonder if Green Mountain Power (GMP) would accept power if we made this array 150 kilowatt (kW). I think Sustainable Woodstock has been looking for a community solar option for its supporters for years! Sure enough, our hunches and thoughts all came together to create a 150kW array named the Mt. Rainbow Community Solar Array.”

Their idea was to have 50kW owned by the school in exchange for the use of the land for the array, land maintenance, years ten to thirty of repair and maintenance, and insuring the array for all thirty years. The remaining 100kW would be sold to fund the installation of the array.

“Sustainable Woodstock championed our idea,” Buss said. “They offered support for advertising, public comment meetings, and public feedback on the structuring of the arrays arrangements. GMP agreed to accept us onto the grid. The project is in the forty-five-notice period to obtain its Certificate of Public Good.”

Buss explained her “take” on community arrays. “Community arrays provide a flexible option for choosing solar. Panel production is credited to your bill no matter where you live on the GMP grid, which means that now even renters have an option in Woodstock to choose solar. The 30 percent federal tax credit still applies until the end of 2019. There is an accelerated depreciation for businesses.”

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