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Bristol Community-owned Solar Expands

Solar site layout for the Bristol Community Solar Array, a 500-kW solar project located in Bristol, Vermont. (Aegis Renewable Energy)

George Harvey

Acorn Renewable Energy Co-op of Middlebury, Vermont is developing a community-owned solar project in Bristol VT, and the funding is moving forward. The project, Bristol Community Solar (BCS), will require an investment of about $1,800,000. Acorn Energy is working with Aegis Renewable Energy of Waitsfield as its contractor on the project.

BCS will have 1,694 solar panels, each of 440 watts. They are bi-facial, so they can generate power from light that is reflected from snow behind them. BCS will be built on over three acres of the capped former municipal landfill off Pine Street in Bristol. The maximum output of the array will be 500 kilowatts of AC power.

The Bristol landfill is ideal for solar development since it has good solar exposure from the south and cannot be seen from public streets and nearby homes. Since it is on a “brownfield” site, it received favorable treatment from Vermont’s energy permitting and approval agencies. Acorn Energy Co-op was issued a Certificate of Public Good for the project by the Public Utility Commission April 1, 2021.

If we are successful, we will have local investment, ownership, and management of a solar array developed in cooperation with the host community, and we will have made the most of a brownfields redevelopment opportunity as well. There are multiple winners all around,” said Acorn Energy Co-op President Benjamin Marks. “We hope that the installed price per watt of the array will also be attractive for prospective participants.”

The Acorn Energy Co-op’s innovative investment model calls for two initial categories of investors in Bristol Community Solar. It is to have a single Series A Member, and multiple Series B Members. The Co-operative Insurance Companies of Middlebury will be the Series A investor and will provide about a third of the capital needed to the project. In return, it will receive federal tax credits. Their involvement helps to keep the costs down for the Series B investors.

We are extremely pleased to have Co-operative Insurance as a major participant in Bristol Community Solar,” said Richard Carpenter, Acorn Energy Co-op’s treasurer. “They played a similar major investment role in our Shoreham, Vermont project, Acorn Energy Solar 2, as well as our Middlebury project, Acorn Energy Solar One.”

An Investor in Series B Membership must be qualified as a Vermont resident or organization, have an electric meter in the Green Mountain Power (GMP) service territory, and be (or become) a member of the Acorn Energy Co-op. The investors will receive the project’s net-metered credits on their GMP bills, and ultimately take ownership of the project.

Participation in BCS was originally very restricted, but it has been expanded to any Vermont resident who has a GMP electric meter, regardless of where they live. We should point out that renters are allowed to invest in the array, if they have GMP accounts, and their ownership can continue if they move to another location with a GMP meter.

The minimum investment in BCS will cover five units of the array. Each Series B Unit corresponds to a 405-watt section of the array and is priced at $702. The minimum investment is five units or $3,510.

Six years after the Bristol project begins electricity production, the equity structure will change so the individual investors may take full ownership of the project, making BCS one of a small number of true community-owned net-metered solar projects in the state.

Acorn Energy Co-op is very excited to be moving ahead with this community-owned solar project developed by Vermonters for Vermont residents,” says president Marks. “We believe it will help decentralize the grid, and will also help the State of Vermont to reach its ambitious goal of 90 percent renewables by 2050.”

Organized in 2008, The Acorn Energy Co-op is a member-owned cooperative serving residents and businesses in Addison, Rutland and Chittenden counties. The Co-op provides education, outreach, products and services, as well as community solar projects that help members make the transition from our present reliance on fossil fuels to greater use of renewables and local solutions.

A schedule of informational online meetings for prospective investors can be found at acornenergycoop.com. For more information on Bristol Community Solar, or to join the Acorn Energy Co-op, visit that site, email info@acornenergycoop.com, or call Mary Mester at 802-385-1911.

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