Construction has begun on Colchester’s two large-scale solar projects.
Deputy town manager Geoff Urbanik said the town can expect to start using energy from the first when it comes online in December.
Racking for the Shipman Hill solar project was delivered last week, and the panels have started to go up, Urbanik said. The solar field, more commonly known as the “Pumpkin Patch” project, will generate $44,462 worth of net metering credits each year and will provide the town with about 30 percent of its total energy consumption, Urbanik said at last week’s selectboard meeting.
The project is the first of two solar fields being constructed in Colchester. The second is slated to go up in the woods off of Roosevelt Highway, and tree clearing has started, Urbanik said.
The Roosevelt Highway solar field will provide a similar payback to the town, providing another 30 percent of the town’s energy consumption. When both projects are up and running, Colchester will see about 60 percent of its energy sourced from solar.
Discussions about a third large-scale project, the Airport Park carport, resurfaced at last week’s board meeting. The project was initially tabled in May as board members were split on its aesthetics.
“Five years ago the only solar we had were crosswalk signs on Lakeshore Drive, and now we’re getting 60 percent of the town’s energy needs from solar, so that’s remarkable,” selectboard member Herb Downing said at last week’s meeting. “It would be wonderful if we could get 100 percent of our energy needs satisfied by solar energy. I think that should be our goal.”
While the selectboard is at a general consensus with Downing, members are still split on the visual appeal of the Airport Park project.
“I look at it the same way as I think we all support the billboard law: We don’t want to see billboards along the interstates or our routes and so forth,” argued selectboard member Jeff Bartley.
Selectboard member Jacki Murphy countered, “Aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, and I personally kind of like the solar arrays I see all over the state. I think they kind of roll with the landscape, and I think what they stand for means a lot to me.”
Selectboard member Tom Mulcahy agreed, saying the board will eventually have to decide whether to construct the next solar field in public view. But members may have to wait until the planning commission writes the energy portion of the newly revised town plan.
“One of the portions that the [planning commission] chair is going to be looking at is the aesthetics and the rules and regulations and policies by which we need to assist in putting one of these things together with the state,” Mulcahy said. “We’ll get some jurisdiction for what can and can’t happen, so that’s another piece that’s not available at this time.”
Planning commission chairwoman Pam Loranger was present at the meeting and said her team is working with the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission to prepare the energy portion of the town plan so the selectboard has a policy on which to base their next solar project decision. They have yet to write up a specific policy for presentation to the selectboard, which will occur before the town meeting, she said.
In the end, the board tabled discussions on the third solar project until after Town Meeting Day, preferring to prioritize the town plan, upcoming town budget discussions and the two current solar projects.