Hinesburg to vote on solar array powering town offices

Cows lounge before the solar array on Charlotte Road in Hinesburg. Photo by Lauren Milideo
Cows lounge before the solar array on Charlotte Road in Hinesburg. Photo by Lauren Milideo

A solar array off Charlotte Road in Hinesburg, leased by the town since its 2010 installation, has been providing enough energy to offset the power needs of the town offices, as well as much of their wastewater treatment energy needs. Now, Hinesburg voters will decide whether to make the arrangement permanent by approving a 10-year bond to purchase the panels for the town.

According to Town Administrator Trevor Lashua, “The purchase was always envisioned as an option, and is an option annually.” This is part of the power purchase agreement now in place. The agreement, he said, “hit the five-year mark, and that functionally served as the trigger to have these conversations about whether to purchase the trackers or continue the lease agreement.” Lashua added that continuing the lease remains an option if the bond doesn’t pass.

The site has 31 trackers, which are pole-mounted systems that follow the sun, increasing production, All Earth Renewables project coordinator Payne Morgan explained. Each tracker contains 24 photovoltaic panels, with 744 panels total on-site.

They produce a rough average of 237,000 kilowatt hours per year, which is sufficient to power the town offices and offset much of the energy needed for Hinesburg’s wastewater treatment, noted Morgan. For comparison, an average household’s use of power is about 5,000-8,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Lashua noted that the value of the electricity produced at the site is about $49,000 per year. This electricity is returned to the power grid, explained Lashua, and then Green Mountain Power credits this power to offset the town’s power expense.

Currently, the town pays $43,000 annually as part of a power purchase agreement, according to Morgan. However, if Hinesburg purchases the panels and trackers at a cost of $311,936 (the bond is listed as $312,000 on the Town website), the town’s annual payments will be less than Hinesburg is currently paying each year, Morgan said.

The town had two funding options: a loan through All Earth Renewables, the panels’ current owner, or one from Vermont Municipal Bond Bank. Over the 10-year bond, the town will save almost $51,000 in interest payments by going with the bank, according to Lashua who added that there are also longer-term benefits of owning the panels.

“The advantages of owning are that the Town will own a renewable source of electricity to power town facilities, primarily the wastewater treatment facility and Town Hall, and, once the bond is paid off, more fully realize the savings associated with the generation of that electricity,” Lashua said. Once the panels were purchased, Hinesburg would maintain an “operation and maintenance agreement” with All Earth Renewables, Lashua added. The solar panels have a 25-year warranty; the trackers on which they sit have a 10-year warranty, expiring in four years, said Morgan.

“[The solar array] was designed to require minimal maintenance, and All Earth offers a comprehensive operations and maintenance package, so the Town does not have to worry about any maintenance or warranty issues,” Morgan said. “The solar array is built to last at least 30 years.” The upcoming end of the trackers’ warranty was included in discussions with the Town, Morgan added.

The bond issue will be up for a vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Voters may cast ballots at Hinesburg Town Hall from 7am to 7pm. Information is available on the Town website: www.hinesburg.org.