Large solar farms in works

Sheldon parcel: 277 acres; Highgate parcel: 168 acres

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By Erin Mansfield

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MONTPELIER — A New York City company is proposing to build four solar farms across Vermont that would each be 10 times larger than any other array operating in the state. And Vermont officials are not sure the state’s infrastructure can handle the load.

Ranger Solar LLC, based in Manhattan with an office in Maine, wants to build four 20-megawatt solar farms in Ludlow, Barton, Highgate and Sheldon, according to paperwork filed in August with the utility-regulating Vermont Public Service Board.

Ranger Solar started up in April, has raised $7 million from private investors to build solar, and is developing a 500-megawatt portfolio to build in the near term. The four planned projects in Vermont would be part of that New England portfolio.

Each farm would be under a separate limited liability company: Coolidge Solar I LLC, Burton Hill Solar LLC, Highgate Solar I LLC and Sheldon Solar LLC. Two of those companies have the same address in Maine, and the other two have the same address in Palo Alto, California. All of the companies are registered in Delaware.

Collectively, the developments would produce 80 megawatts of solar — one megawatt more than the amount of solar output Vermont had combined in 2014. They would collectively take up 837 acres of land, according to Public Service Board documents.

The Sheldon project would sit on 277 acres of leased land among three parcels. The Barton project would occupy 237 acres of leased land. The Highgate project would take up 168 acres of land and the Ludlow project would be installed on 155 acres of leased land.

The parent company says it will file notice of the projects with the Public Service Board in the fall, leaving community members with a 45-day period to file public comment. The company says “engineering, interconnection, environmental, and other necessary technical studies and analyses” are happening now.

Before applying for certificates of public good for the actual projects, the company is asking to use a special exemption to a state regulatory rule to enter into a 20-year pricing agreement with the Public Service Board.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would determine whether Ranger Solar’s projects qualify for the exemption. The Public Service Board, using regulatory rule 4.100, would then set the slightly higher rate for which utilities must buy all the power produced.

In Barton and Sheldon, Ranger Solar wants to sell the electricity to the Vermont Electric Power Producers and use transmission lines from Vermont Electric Cooperative. In Highgate and Ludlow, the company would sell to Vermont Electric Power Producers and use lines from Vermont Electric Power Co., or VELCO. Vermont Electric Power Producers is the purchasing agent for Vermont utilities.

Commercial solar is selling at between 10 cents and 11 cents per kilowatt hour. If the projects are built and operate with 14 percent efficiency, the company could make between $9.8 million and $10.8 million per year in gross revenue from selling the energy.

Transmission possible?

Representatives for Ranger Solar did not reply to several inquiries for comment placed Friday and Tuesday. But major players in the utility industry are already raising concerns over the increasing size of utility projects across Vermont.

In an email to executives who discuss Public Service Board rules 5.500, VELCO executive Deena Frankel wrote that regulatory rules and procedures are not designed to handle projects larger than 5 megawatts.

“These applications are the first time any developer has sought to interconnect a [greater than 5-megawatt] facility under Rule 5.500, and the first state applications submitted directly to VELCO,” Frankel wrote. The email goes on to say that the Public Service Board rules do not impose adequate fees on developers for performing feasibility studies.

David Hallquist, chief executive officer of Vermont Electric Cooperative, said Ranger Solar is moving very quickly, and, because so much of the project would depend on federal laws, VEC would have to transport the power whether they like it or not.

“We’re gonna fight these projects pretty fiercely,” Hallquist said. “We’ll be required to transport that power, but we won’t be doing it willingly.”

He said his company’s transmission lines cannot handle the amount of power the 20-megawatt projects would produce. Under federal law, if Vermont Electric Cooperative needs to upgrade its transmission lines for the project, the developer would cover 30 percent of the costs, and ratepayers would be responsible for 70 percent, he said.

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Public Service Department, said Friday he has concerns about the project. Large solar projects need to be placed in a part of the grid that won’t transmit so much electricity that the infrastructure needs to be repaired, he says.

“I do have concerns about some of these large projects,” Recchia said. “I think the general trend of encouraging solar and the fact that the price has come down considerably over the years is a benefit to Vermont and Vermont ratepayers.

“That being said, I think they need to be considered. They need to be properly sited,” he said. “Truthfully, I find it hard to believe that a 20-megawatt project will find a place under those criteria.”

  • fairnessreaper

    Good stuff. Much better than poisonous fossil fuels, even if republicans hate renewables…