Pawlet pursues community-based solar
By Lucia Suarez
STAFF WRITER | October 03,2012
PAWLET — A 150-kilowatt solar initiative is taking shape north of town — one that its developer, Northeast Community Solar, hopes will be the first of several in the area.
“We are excited about it,” said Gene Bertsche, president of Northeast Community Solar (NCS). “The goal is to allow local residents to have access to solar energy without any up-front cost and with only the responsibility of paying their bill every month.”
NCS was founded by local experts in solar energy, construction and finance with the idea that community-based solar will play a role in allowing Vermont to reduce its dependence on foreign energy sources. According to Bertsche, they began pursuing a project in Rutland County about a year ago after being introduced to Energize Vermont, a local group that advocates for community solar projects.
“We saw what they want to do and thought it was a good idea,” Bertsche said.
Identifying property was key for the project. NCS is focusing on projects in Rutland and Windsor counties he said, and after looking at several properties, they settled on a 9-acre property on Route 30, just south of the Wells town line.
“We thought about leasing but to any property owner the idea of leasing is daunting,” Bertsche said. “I decided to go buy property.”
The solar project is designed for 150 kilowatts which would include just under 600 panels within 9 acres. It is expected to cost about $750,000.
Through Vermont’s net-metering law, the power produced from the project will be fed into the Green Mountain Power local grid.
“Technically, anyone on the grid can tap into the power,” Bertsche said. “But this system will be designed to be give preference to local users first.”
He said they expect users will be a mix of residences and businesses. Currently there are a couple of investors and at least two subscribers on board.
NCS also looks to incorporate local agricultural opportunities for farmers in its site design. The array of panels will be installed in single-center posts that will allow for regular ground work. The posts will be separated by enough space to allow for a local farmer to use.
“I don’t believe in taking land out of agriculture,” Bertsche said. “We have space in between the rows for gardens.”
Although the solar project is community-based, Bertsche said NCS’s business model is different than others that have be proposed in other communities such as the Acorn Energy Co-op in Middlebury. He said although Acorn’s model works for them, it is not one that can be replicated in many places.
“(Our) concept is quite simple,” Bertsche said. “The subscribers’ responsibility is to pay the bill every month.”
The Vermont Public Service Board recently granted the project a certificate of public good, giving NCS the green light to seek investors and community subscribers. If everything goes according to plan, Bertsche said he hopes the solar panels will be up and running by the end of this year.
He said they are already looking at other properties for potential projects, but said he would not comment until they were more concrete.
“Our goal is to keep the production in town,” Bertsche said. “It’s local demand satisfied by local solutions.”