Thetford Strafford Community Solar: The first Multi-Use Community Solar in the State Goes Live!
by George Harvey
The Thetford Strafford Community Solar (TSCS) farm, in Thetford, Vermont, is now operational. Unlike the state’s earlier community solar installations, the TSCS farm has a mix of types of members. It was formed as a partnership of residents of Thetford, Strafford, and Norwich, a commercial farm, and the town of Thetford itself. Its mixed membership makes it a mixed-use community solar farm, the first of its kind in the state.
The solar array has 185 kilowatts of photovoltaic panels. Together, they should produce about 230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. The electricity is to be sold to Green Mountain Power (GMP) under a net-metering contract. GMP gets the renewable energy credits associated with the energy and retires them.
Net-metering also benefits the owners of the system’s 187 shares, who invested $2,782 for each share, by reducing their electric bills. About 85% of the electricity their shares generate is credited to their GMP meter under net-metering to GMP. The remaining 15% of the electricity from the solar farm is credited to the Town of Thetford’s meters under a 25-year credit purchase agreement the town has entered into with TSCS, allowing the town to buy power at a discounted utility rate and providing a slight downward pressure on the tax burden to benefit all residents.
While most, or possibly all, of the owners bought shares in TSCS to help reduce the world’s carbon emissions, most may also have invested to save money. At least one customer bought two shares specifically to be able to cover the increased power consumption of new heat pumps. Dori Wolfe’s company, Wolfe Energy, already renewably powered, will be heated by getting electricity from its two shares.
Building the TSCS system engaged a number of subcontractors in Vermont and New Hampshire. Foremost among them was Norwich Solar, which built the TSCS array. There will also always be some maintenance to keep the array in top working order, plus the cost of insurance and taxes are the reasons why 15% of the power produced is sold to the Town of Thetford.
The organization is not the only thing novel about the installation. It does not have a fence to keep animals out. This is because the land is home to deer migration. There is technology making the fences unnecessary; one way to do this is to put a fabric coating on wires that make the array code-compliant in lieu of a fence. The absence of fences means that wildlife living patterns are not disrupted.