by Andre Rouleau, Prudential Committee Member
Graniteville Fire District No. 4 (GFD) is a full-service public water system serving the Graniteville area of Barre Town. The idea for photo-voltaic solar panels started at a training session for water system operators and staff given by the Vermont Rural Water Association in mid-December, 2010. An article appeared in the newsletter of the same organization regarding solar energy shortly after that time. This prompted further inquiries of contractors in the business. Results of these were presented to the Prudential Committee of the Fire District.
One of the reservoirs of the system at 189 McCarthy Road has a long roof structure with a south-facing side. Consideration was given to having solar panels installed on this roof. Some “ball park” estimates were obtained, and a feasibility evaluation was made.
The Prudential Committee authorized further investigation for such a project. A request-for-proposal was prepared and sent to several contractors from a list provided by a trade association, Renewable Energy VT , in April 2011. Four proposals were received and considered.
Following scrutiny of the very competitive proposals, DC Energy Innovations of North Hero, VT was selected. Although there is room for three rows of solar panels, the Fire District opted for two rows at that time,with 24 panels on the top row and 26 panels on the lower row to provide 11.75 kw. This required having bracing installed on the roof trusses prior to installation of the panels, and many trees had to be cut.
Other preliminary studies were required for historical and archaeological concerns. A permit was needed from the State Public Service Board (Certificate of Public Good for Interconnected Net-Metered Power Systems). A contract was signed in late June, 2011. Actual installation began in September, and the project was operational on October 4, 2011. The panels provide DC (direct-current) power, and inverters convert it to AC (alternating current) power. The energy is used for the water treatment plant operation (lights, heat, pumps, etc.). When surplus energy is produced, the power is sold to the local utility, Green Mountain Power Corp. When there is not sufficient energy produced, additional power is purchased in the usual manner from GMP. New meters had to be installed to measure the amount of power produced, sold to GMP, and purchased from GMP.
The contract amount was for $51,421. The estimated State Incentive grant was $17,997. There were additional costs for structural analysis, bracing, etc. of approximately $3,000. The net contact amount for GFD was $33,424. Numerous alternative sources of grants were explored, but were not available.
Funds were from available resources of GFD. A recent sale of land that was no longer needed by GFD helped to make funding available. A loan agreement had been reached with a local bank, but the loan did not need to be used. Some final adjustments were made upon completion of the project. GFD expects a payback period of approximately 11 years, with an annual benefit of approximately $3,000 per year. The first few months’ experience is well below expectations due to very cloudy weather and the short daylight in winter months. We hope that the production in the summer months will compensate for the poor experience of the winter.