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Colchester's Transition to Solar

 
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The "Pumpkin Patch" solar field
Photo credit: Town of Colchester

Source: Caili Orem

In an effort to preserve the environment and reduce energy costs, the Town of Colchester has implemented major plans for their source of electric. Just this past fall, two solar sites have received permits to begin the construction and energy generation for a portion of the city. 
 
The first of the sites approved by the Selectboard is known as the Pumpkin Patch, located on Mallets Bay Avenue. This site alone would account for about 29% of the town’s electrical needs. While the environment is a major concern and reason for the proposal of these solar sites, the economic factor has to be accounted for. The initial investment for the Pumpkin Patch hovers at $495,380; however, the projections of the payback and net positive cash flow via solar electrical generation were financially plausible. After 15 years, the entire investment will have been paid off. Due to the project’s self-financing, taxpayers are excluded from financial responsibility. This way, instead of paying the electric bill, the town pays the bank instead. 
 
Similarly to the Pumpkin Patch, the second site to receive a permit is the site on Roosevelt Highway, which is expected to generate about 31% of the town’s electricity. A third site is in the works; however, a specific location has not yet been designated. The hope is that the addition of this third site will total 90% renewable electric in the town of Colchester. 
 
After speaking with the Town Manager of Colchester, Aaron Frank, I was given insight into the origin and future of these plans. Aaron has experience working for Chittenden County Transit, now known as Green Mountain Transit, where he became familiar with the cost effectiveness of solar collectors.
“It was a collaborative effort to benefit both ends,” Aaron responded after being asked what the main reasoning for the installations were: the environment or the money. “the land and facilities being owned by the town drastically improved savings, about 40%, even though more time had to be invested.” The funding would not have been so easily obtained if not for the positive economic outcome.
 
The renewable energy solutions company, Aegis, has been chosen to take on the project due to their pricing and flexible contract. They have already installed the racking and delivered the solar modules to the Pumpkin Patch site. As the construction of the project was started immediately after the permitting, the site is expected to be complete before the end of 2018. 
 
As Colchester proceeds with the projects and produces positive results, it may influence other towns in Vermont to do the same. Looking ahead, there are virtually no implications. The confidence that has been portrayed in the payback projections is enough incentive for others to follow Colchester’s lead, while simultaneously working toward the state renewable energy goal.