ST. JOHNSBURY — With voter approval won last week, a new solar project is set to come to town.
Residents on Town Meeting Day approved a 25-year agreement between the St. Johnsbury School and St. Johnsbury Solar II to allow the company to lease a vacant property from the school for $98,000 over the course of the deal.
There, on a 21-acre tract off Breezy Hill Road, the company plans to build an array of about 2,000 panels to capture solar energy.
“This is really about stewardship of our environment in St. Johnsbury,” said Brian Ricca, the school’s superintendent.
“It’s important that public entities — and in this case, our school board — are really taking meaningful steps to address, to speak about, to make alternative energy options a reality for our communities,” Ricca said.
St. Johnsbury Solar II is a subsidiary of the White River Junction-based Norwich Solar Technologies. Last year, Norwich partnered with the school and the town government to each buy net metering credits produced by the company’s existing solar array. Those credits offset power bills.
That array, which was commissioned in June 2019 and unveiled in October, sits behind the Green Mountain Mall, next to the site of the new project. The net-metering deal was estimated then to save the school $400,000 over 25 years.
The new lease — which voters approved 1,298 to 443 — will see $50,000 go to the school for the first year, and $2,000 for each of the remaining years.
Net metering credits generated from the future solar panels won’t go to the school, said Kevin Davis, vice president of sales for Norwich Solar. But the 500-kilowatt project will create a total of $150,000 in credits per year at current rates for potential partners, he said.
“We deal with a lot of schools and nonprofits and folks like that,” he said, explaining that those groups often want to switch to solar-based electricity but don’t have the means to.
Davis said the company has been in talks with several organizations that could benefit from the project’s solar credits.
Construction is expected to start within the next couple months and finish by the end of summer, he said.
On Ricca’s end, the deal is less about the money. It’s nice for the school to collect almost $100,000, he said, but because the money is spread across 25 years, it’s “really not going to move the needle in terms of people’s actual education taxes.”
The request for a ballot item about the lease — made during the school board’s Jan. 20 meeting — was more about continuing the school’s commitment to environmentalism, he said.
Back in the fall, the board sought (and ultimately received) voter approval for a $3 million bond to fund security and energy upgrades. Among those upgrades was a plan to move toward biofuel for heating.
“The bond and the first solar array are not just one-offs for this board,” Ricca said. “The board is taking seriously this notion that as leaders in this community, they want to have more options for alternative energy uses in town.”