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Solar Farms Move Us Closer to Vermont’s Energy Goal

366 solar trackers and 8,784 JA Solar modules at Claire Solar in So. Burlington, Vt., the largest solar installation of its kind in North America

Since the last edition of Green Energy Times went to press, we have seen two more large solar arrays put online in Vermont. Both are in the state’s Sustainably Priced Energy Development (SPEED) program, in the Standard Offer Program, which offers a guaranteed price advantage. Each has a capacity of about 2.2 MW, the maximum eligibility limit for the standard offer.

One of the projects went online in South Burlington in August. It was developed by Claire Solar Partners and AllEarth Renewables. The project has 366 AllSun Trackers, which follow the sun on both vertical and horizontal axes, maximizing the output of the photovoltaic (PV) panels used in the system. The solar panels were provided by JA Solar.

The other project went online just north of Brattleboro in September. It is the largest solar project in southeastern Vermont, with an output equivalent to about 8% of the electricity used in Brattleboro. It was developed by Winstanley Enterprises LLC on land it owns off Technology Drive. It is visible, though not obviously, from Route 91. Integrated Solar, a local company in Brattleboro, worked with REC, a California company, to provide the installation.

Vermont used 5,554,501 MWh of electricity in 2013, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE). The total output of these two new projects should be about 5,588 MWh, roughly 0.1% of the state’s electric demand. This may seem small, but remember that other projects are also being developed.

Vermont’s SPEED program was started as a result of legislation passed in 2005. The goal was to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in the state to reduce dependence on both fossil fuels and nuclear power. To do this, some rather impressive goals were set. The one that is most talked about is 90% renewable, by 2050, for our electricity, heating, and transportation combined.

Southeastern Vermont’s largest solar array. The 2.5 MW Winstanley Solar Project is located in Brattleboro. Photo by Katrina Wilson, ISASolar.com.

Southeastern Vermont’s largest solar array. The 2.5 MW Winstanley Solar Project is located in Brattleboro. Photo by Katrina Wilson, ISASolar.com.

Vermont also has interim goals relating to SPEED and generating electricity. One is to have 20% of the state’s electric retail electric sales through SPEED by January 1, 2017. Another is to have the program’s capacity increased at a fixed rate to 55% by 2035. Note again, however, that these are retail sales and include neither small net-metered nor off-grid power. Progress in the SPEED program is easy to follow by visiting the website, vermontspeed.com.

Currently, five years after the introduction of the feed-in tariff, projects in the SPEED program deliver about 892,200 MWh per year. This means that the projects in the program are producing about 16% of Vermont’s electricity, which is in striking distance of the 20% we should have by 2017.

The two new solar projects are said to be the largest in the state. We might be more accurate about this. They are tied with eight other solar projects of the same size. There are also eighteen other solar projects of smaller size, for a total of 33,078 MW capacity from solar.

While there has long been hydroelectric power in Vermont, very little of it is part of the SPEED program; what does accounts for 39,479 MW. Other renewable projects that are part of the SPEED program include farm methane, with a total capacity of 34,579 MW; landfill methane, with a capacity of 102,878 MW; and biomass, with a capacity of 153,410 MW. By far, the greatest contributor to the SPEED program is five wind farms, whose capacity is 528,777 MW.

Converting capacity figures to power delivered is not simple, because each different type of power has amounts of capacity that vary through time, according to conditions. It is also not easy to get the latest data on net metering programs, and it is next to impossible to get an accurate assessment of how much off-grid power is generated.

We can look at some good general estimates from the US Department of Energy, however, which runs the Energy Information Administration. They give us data on how much power comes from what sources, and how much power is used. By doing a little math on what they give us, we can find that hydropower, nearly none of which is in the SPEED program, gives us about 1200 GWh per year, or about 17% of what we use. Other renewables account for a bit over 700 GWh. We are not to the 2017 goal yet, but we clearly can get there with some effort.

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