By EILEEN O’GRADY
Vermont Electric Cooperative’s new co-op community solar project is up and running on Magee Hill in Hinesburg.
Construction on the project, which consists of a 4,914-panel solar array, was finished at the end of 2017.
The system became operational around the start of the new year, according to Andrea Cohen, Vermont Electric Cooperative’s manager of government affairs and member relations.
The 1.3-megawatt project is the culmination of two years of work by the VEC to install long-term, cost-effective solar arrays in three locations around Northern Vermont. Similar arrays were built in Alburgh in late 2016 and Grand Isle last summer.
The Hinesburg project was proposed by VEC and approved by the Vermont Public Utility Commission in June 2017. The town of Hinesburg has no jurisdiction over the solar array, as utility projects are approved by the state. Encore Renewable Energy, a Burlington-based clean energy development company, developed and financed the array; the company would not disclose the cost of the project. Encore also holds the 25-year lease on the 7-acre Hinesburg property.
The solar project met controversy when it was announced two years ago. Some residents of the Magee Hill Road area voiced their concerns at a February 2016 selectboard meeting, saying that the project was too big for their neighborhood, would decrease property values, and was “out of touch” with the local community. However, since that meeting there has been no further attempt to stop the project or appeal the permit from the state.
“The good thing about a residential solar project is that once it is up and operational, it is a very good neighbor,” Cohen said. “It’s pretty quiet, unlike other commercial businesses where you would really notice that something is there. In a neighborhood like Hinesburg, people are generally very supportive of renewable energy, so our part has been to make sure we are being a good neighbor.”
The co-op’s three solar projects combined are expected to generate about 11,000 megawatt-hours annually, which is enough to power about 1,700 homes, the company said. Hinesburg’s array alone will produce enough to power 300 homes.
All of the electricity generated will provide power to the homes of Vermonters enrolled in VEC’s Co-op Community Solar Program, a collective that enables members to run their homes on solar without installing an array on their own property. Participants in the program can make an up-front payment to sponsor panels for 10 or 20 years and receive credit back over the course of the sponsorship. According to Cohen, about half of Hinesburg residents on the power grid are VEC members.
Combined with other renewable resources, these projects are expected to generate enough energy for VEC to meet its state-mandated renewable energy requirements through 2024, the company said.
“It’s great to have all three of these projects up and running, delivering more renewable energy onto the grid,” said Christine Hallquist, chief executive officer of VEC. “This is an important accomplishment in helping us bring clean and cost-effective electricity to our members over the coming years.”