BY EMMETT GARTNER | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | MAY 28, 2020
Hinesburg’s Energy Committee is one step closer to developing a town solar plan after the Selectboard approved a request for proposals at its May 6 meeting.
The request for proposal, which is nonbinding and exploratory in its scope, seeks third-party bidders to submit designs for a solar photovoltaic system that would be installed on municipal property. Following its installation, the town would pay for the system’s electricity at a reduced rate and possibly receive lease payments for the system’s location.
Committee member Michael Webb explained the town’s vision for the system as having two primary objectives: the first being to offset energy demands from municipal buildings, and the second to offer Hinesburg residents the opportunity to purchase green energy through a community solar plan.
The third objective, should the first two be achieved, would be to then offer net-metering credits to other Vermont electrical customers.
“It’s a proven model,” Webb said about community solar. “It’s capitalizing on an opportunity to pay lower utility.”
Thus far, the committee has narrowed down five potential locations from which bidders may choose to design their installations: the former town landfill, the new town garage roof, the fire station roof, the town hall roof, and the police station roof.
Energy Committee member Chuck Reiss said he sees large potential in a ground mounted system at the landfill site. Reiss said it would provide the best opportunity for offering community solar due to its connection to the Vermont Electric Cooperative utility, which allows for net-metering to areas outside of Hinesburg. Hinesburg’s electricity service is distributed by two different utilities — VEC and Green Mountain Power — and the landfill’s location on the grid falls under VEC’s coverage.
The VEC connection will likely be a factor that town officials will consider when they make their decision on the ultimate location.
The RFP doesn’t limit proposals to just one location. It suggests using one or a combination of municipal sites and is open to additional locations on private land if it fits with the contractor’s design. “Bidders can propose projects on one, or multiple, town land locations listed as well as any other, non-town owned locations in Hinesburg that the bidder is aware of and may be advantageous to a project,” the request for proposals states.
By allowing more Vermonters to tap into the project — which net-metering and community solar both offer — the solar installation will address the town’s broader energy goals.
“This sits in a larger picture for our town, and our Energy Committee in particular has set ourselves a goal of getting Hinesburg to 90% renewable energy by 2050,” Reiss said.
Hinesburg is not the only town in pursuit of a greener energy portfolio.
Melanie Needle, a senior planner with the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, said the regional planning office has provided technical assistance to 16 of the county’s 19 municipalities for their “enhanced energy plans” — Hinesburg included. These plans help meet requirements of a piece of Vermont energy legislation, Act 174.
“The energy standards say that the plans must contain actions for reducing energy use in the transportation, heating, and electricity sectors; increasing renewable energy generation; maps to identify areas for renewable energy resources; current and future energy use,” Needle explained.
Reiss similarly added that the solar project is not the end of the line for reducing energy use.
“We’re also looking at municipal buildings and how to weatherize them, and perhaps put heat pumps in, which means we’d be transitioning some of the thermal energy requirements for our buildings over to electricity,” Reiss said.
The Energy Committee sought public comment regarding the RFP and other Hinesburg-related energy topics. They received 10 responses to posts on Front Porch Forum, which Webb described as generally positive.
“I’m writing to express my whole-hearted support,” one respondent wrote, “I would love to see solar systems around the town as it is something we can do to contribute to addressing the climate crisis that confronts us.”
Comments and questions from the public were included in the May 6 Selectboard meeting packet. Names of commenters were removed to not identify them because they were not told their input would be made public.
The deadline for solar providers to submit proposals for the project design is 4 p.m. on June 9 and the committee will continue to accept questions until May 26. The Hinesburg Energy Committee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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