By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 03, 2018
Wilder — In the latest sign of Hartford’s push for green, energy-efficient infrastructure, town officials have gained state approval to build another municipal solar project at the site of a town-owned well in the Olcott Falls mobile home park on Walnut Street.
The aging Wilder Well No. 1, which is scheduled to be replaced this year, also is the subject of a new energy efficiency program that’s saving the town roughly $1,000 per month in electric bills, according to Geoff Martin, who was hired seven months ago in the town’s newly created position of energy coordinator.
The town is putting together a request for proposals to build the 120-kilowatt solar array, which would increase its total solar capacity to 888.5 kilowatts — enough to power about 150 homes.
Hartford, which funnels the solar energy back into the grid in exchange for credits to its Green Mountain Power bills, would likely follow the same model it has used for solar installations at the White River Junction Wastewater Facility on Latham Works Lane and the Public Works building on Airport Road.
The purchase and installation costs of those projects were borne by the contractor, Norwich Solar Technologies, which takes a slice of the energy cost savings to fund the project.
Jim Merriam, CEO of Norwich Solar, said the company is “very interested in working with the town on the (new solar) project,” and intends to bid.
Martin said the new solar project is in its early stages, and that he couldn’t estimate the cost savings it would produce for the town until a contractor is identified.
Hartford is already significantly over the 500 kW per-customer cap that the Vermont Public Utility Commission established in early 2017, but the new solar project would be grandfathered in because town planners submitted the application in late 2016.
The PUC approved the certificate of public good in early March, after considering objections from the nonprofit Housing Foundation, which owns Olcott Falls, and GMP.
The Montpelier-based Housing Foundation said in January 2017 “that it had concerns about the proposed location of the Project and would file subsequent comments,” according to the PUC’s ruling, but “no further comments were received by the Commission.”
The ruling also said the Housing Foundation accused the town of not providing proper notice to the Olcott Falls residents, but the PUC found that the town had acted within the law by notifying the Housing Foundation as the landowner.
Efforts to reach the Housing Foundation were unsuccessful; a handful of Olcott Falls neighbors said on Monday they had no problem with the concept of a solar array at the well site.
After GMP filed a concern that the solar array’s power usage pattern could disrupt a portion of the local grid, the PUC issued its certificate with a condition that Hartford take steps to mitigate the potential problem.
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3211.