By George Harvey
The Upper Valley Aquatic Center (UVAC), in White River Junction, Vermont, has to deal with energy loads many people might never think about. For example, the center’s pools put a lot of water vapor into the air, especially as people are splashing about in them, and that vapor has to be removed to eliminate the discomfort and other problems associated with high humidity. The traditional approach to this is to operate equipment that requires a lot of electric power.
Richard Synnott, UVAC’s Executive Director, addressed the cost of dealing with humidity with the help of a very impressive, high-efficiency ventilation system that reduces electricity usage. But that is just one big load. He has known for years that the center could save money each year by having its own solar array. So he looked for a solar installer, and because non-profit organizations cannot take advantage of incentives, he also had to find a way to finance the system.
In time, Synnott settled on Norwich Solar Technologies (NST) to provide a turnkey solution for the array. He did this partly because it was very nearby, but also because of recommendations he had received. NST located and purchased nearby land for the solar system and did all the design, permitting, engineering, and construction work. They worked with New Energy Equity of Annapolis, Maryland, for financing.
Troy McBride, the Chief Technology Officer of NST, explained to us that the UVAC solar array was special for a number of reasons. First of all, UVAC is an important community asset in White River Junction, Vermont. For many local people, McBride told us, UVAC is “a sort of cultural icon.”
“We were delighted to work with UVAC,” McBride said. “It is a win-win-win. The first win was that there was no upfront cost because of the way it was financed, so they save substantial money right from the start. The second win is for the environment, because they use a lot of electric power. And the third win is for more local energy generation and local energy employment.”
The UVAC array was built in Hartford, Vermont. As a 500-kilowatt (AC) system, it is expected to produce about a million kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. It has 2,184 solar panels, REC 335 Twinpeak 72-Series, and fourteen CPS inverters.
Because of the financing of the project, UVAC did not have to spend any up-front money at all. Over the time that New Energy Equity owns the system, it will save the aquatic center about $25,000 per year. At select dates during the contract period, and the end, UVAC has an option to buy the system at a much reduced price. The system is net-metered with Green Mountain Power, and the estimated savings over the first twenty years of operation come to about $800,000.
The vegetation that grows under solar panels needs to be kept down so the panels are not shaded by plants. Among the things that will grow under solar panels are grasses of types historically used for grazing sheep. The UVAC solar array is across the street from Sunrise Farm. As a matter of synergy, the UVAC solar system is being mowed by the farm’s sheep, which are sent over from time to time to perform this vital function. “It is super fun to do this,” said Chuck Wooster of Sunrise Farm. He called combining solar and agriculture on the same land “an environmental two-fer.”
The idea of having agriculture with solar power on the same land is not unique. It is fairly common in the United Kingdom to graze sheep under solar panels, though it is not quite so much done here. Troy McBride told us that there are some other arrays in New England where this is done, and Barrington Power has been known to buy its own sheep specifically to keep grass down. Speaking for Norwich Solar Technologies, McBride said, “We are looking for more places to find synergy between solar power and agriculture.”