Editorial: Approval of a co-op solar farm example of unity for greater good

Published: 3/8/2018 9:05:06 AM

Wendell voters this month have lived up to their reputation for being progressive — and practical.

They have authorized participating in a cooperative solar farm to provide green electricity to homeowners who can’t site photovoltaic panels on their own properties.

A series of measures allowing the town to join in the community energy project passed at a special town meeting last week.

The cooperative’s solar array would be built on 1.3 acres of town-owned land at 97 Wendell Depot Road. It would be installed by Northeast Solar, a private company, on behalf of local residents who want access to solar electricity. The project is being billed as the classic win-win-win. The town would be paid rent for use of its land. The developer would get paid for its work, and the cooperative members would get cheap electricity for decades, eventually paying off their investment and thenceforth getting free power for their efforts.

The Wendell Community Solar Cooperative “allows individual households that cannot install solar to receive the same benefits as homeowners that can install solar on their households,” noted Gregory Garrison, president of Northeast Solar, the company building the facility. The electricity generated by the solar array would not go directly to cooperative members’ homes, as does power from an individual roof-mounted panel, but rather it would be sold to the local utility company, fed into the grid, and Wendell coop members would have their bills credited.

Garrison has argued that the money saved will flow into the local economy, benefiting the community as a whole financially — and, of course, contribute to a greener world by cutting the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

The town provides the cooperative with a 20-year lease, with options for 10-year extensions. According to Garrison, there could be two options for the scale of the project — and size of potential financial gain.

The first option, according to Garrison, would include 1,116 solar panels and allow 55 members into the cooperative. This project would yield the community an economic benefit of more than $65,000 a year and more than $1.3 million over 20 years, Garrison asserted.

The smaller option would include 648 panels and allow for 32 members to benefit. This would yield an economic benefit of over $42,000 a year and $846,800 over 20 years, according to Garrison.

The town meeting attendees liked what they heard, and voted unanimously to transfer control of the property to the Selectboard, specifically for the purposes of hosting the community-shared solar energy facility.

It’s now up to the Selectboard to work out the details and contracts with Garrison and the cooperative. We think this kind of development, which doesn’t seem to hurt anyone, but only brings benefits to the town and our warming world, is a great example of thinking globally and acting locally.

While federal and state incentives for solar development are still available, maybe other towns can follow the progress of Wendell’s project and perhaps its example as well.

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