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29,000 Solar Panels for Solar Sustainability at Middlebury College in VT

Groundbreaking at Middlebury’s new solar array (Courtesy image)

A new solar array at Middlebury College will bring it closer to its 100% renewable energy goal. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) joined representatives from Middlebury College, Encore Renewable Energy, Green Mountain Power (GMP), the state of Vermont, and the town of Middlebury on October 12 to break ground on the 5-MW solar project.

Middlebury College will buy 100% of the array’s production to help meet its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2028. The array will provide about 30% of all the electricity the college needs. The other 70% of its electricity comes from a number of sources, which is already 100% carbon-free and 68% renewable. The agreement on the new array between Encore, GMP, and Middlebury eliminates any cost shift to the utility’s customers.

Encore, the project developer, will complete the construction of the array in 2022. The project, which is on 30 acres of land owned by the college, will include 29,000 panels mounted on single-axis trackers that will follow the sun east to west over the course of the day.

After a blessing from Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, the groundbreaking event continued with remarks from the speakers.

Senator Leahy spoke of the consequences of the climate crisis and the economic benefits of the array, which he called an “economic imperative.” He said, “I am so proud to see that urgency being demonstrated so clearly right here in Middlebury,” adding, “I continue to be impressed by the Middlebury College commitment to leading by example in its investments in renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions.”

“This is a great example of how our community partners make us stronger. This new resource will offer a rich source of study and exploration for our students, staff, and faculty,” said Middlebury College President Laurie Patton.

“The solar project will allow the College to receive clean electricity from a new, locally generated source,” said David Provost, Middlebury executive vice president for finance and administration. “With this groundbreaking, we are further diversifying our energy mix as well.”

GMP President and CEO Mari McClure said, “We plan to add storage to this solar project, which will directly help lower costs for all customers as we use the stored energy from the solar project to reduce power demand from the grid during high energy use days.”

Initially, flocks of sheep, rather than noisy fossil fuel-powered mowers, will provide vegetation management at the site. Eventually, the site will feature pollinator-friendly plants and shrubs that will attract an increased number of bees, butterflies, and other insects to help support crops in the Middlebury area. The College will also dedicate up to 95 acres of its land to be managed as a habitat for bobolinks and other grassland birds.

“This project is a great example of how large customers like Middlebury College can collaborate with their electric utility on carbon-free energy solutions,” said Chad Farrell, CEO of Encore Renewable Energy. “It is also a model for the expanding benefits that a solar array can offer, including pollinator-friendly ground cover and a location for grazing farm animals, as well as a potential interactive learning opportunity for students.”

“It’s wonderful to see this solar project move forward,” said Brian Carpenter, chair of the Middlebury Select Board. “Middlebury College and Encore were great to work with – while making an effort to meet a clean energy goal they also took into consideration the five-megawatt array’s imprint on wildlife, the local landscape, and the neighborhood.”

“Middlebury’s leadership and this solar project serve as a model for Vermont. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our resiliency as a State depends on innovative partners coming together to find solutions to our greatest challenges, climate change being top among them,” Lt. Gov. Molly Gray said.

Once the solar array is constructed, it will produce about 50 times the energy required annually to power Forest Hall, a Middlebury College residence hall that houses 155 students. The project is a carbon-free energy source producing the equivalent to the energy needed to power 800 average Vermont homes through the year. The new solar project will join eight other Middlebury College solar arrays that comprise just over one megawatt.

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