FairPoint Communications strike will delay solar hook-up


Lindsay Brown

Solar installation nears completion

The installation of a one acre, 150 kWh solar panel array near the main entrance to the college is expected to be completed by the end of October, and connected to the Town of Johnson Water and Light Department by the end of this year, that is, if FairPoint and its employees can come to a contract agreement.

This week FairPoint was scheduled to connect the lines for the new solar grid, up the hill from the former “upper pond,” and run them down Clay Hill, but that has been delayed indefinitely.

Plans for this solar project began in 2013 when the college solicited bids from developers, from which Encore Redevelopment, of Burlington, Vt. was chosen. “The people at Johnson decided this was a viable way to go and produced a request for proposals and basically said, ‘listen, we’ve got this area that we want to use, and we want to have a green footprint, what’s available?’ Encore put up the best proposal and Johnson State signed with them,” said Steve Yates, of Peck Electric.

Encore Redevelopment pays a leasing fee to JSC, and is responsible for both financing and installing the panels. For these tasks, Encore Redevelopment has teamed up with general contractor, Peck Electric, of South Burlington, Vt., and Bullrock Corporation’s Senior Solar Energy, of Shelburne Vt., as the principal investor. “Encore developed the idea, and the concept, and the relationship with Johnson State, and then Encore came to us,” said Bullrock President of Development and Operations, Andrew Thomas. “We in essence purchased that project they have developed from them, and then we engaged Peck Electric, and we pay them to build it…All three of us are involved in the project, it’s a long term relationship.”

While JSC and surrounding energy consumers will use the power supplied by these panels off of the grid, JSC does not directly profit from these solar panels; in other words, JSC does not receive the “credits,” or money, from working with this renewable solar energy.Those are accredited to the principal investor. “The credits get accrued towards Senior Solar, LLC which goes to the senior living centers, which Bullrock owns and develops in other parts of Vermont, and that goes to pay for their electricity,” said Yates.

Instead, JSC receives a leasing fee for the acre of land, as well as an additional payment for being a net metered customer, an incentive which was established by the Vermont Legislature to encourage the adoption of alternative energy sources throughout the state.

“JSC has the potential to purchase this site back in seven years. That’s when the balloon for the project will come up, in which case all the credits would revert to the school,” said Thomas.

From inception to installation, nothing about this project has been especially easy. “Because this is on a hillside, we had a very challenging installation,” said Yates. “We had to cut in little terraces to be able to get the machine to drive the posts in. It doesn’t look like it, but underneath here is all ledge. So we had to remove one of the rows and rearrange it to get everything to fit…Every site has its own challenges, rejections, is what we call them. You drive a post, hit a rock, you’re like ‘oh, crud,’ so then you’ve got to dig it out, pour concrete, or make a new plan. These are 16 foot posts, so they are 11 feet into the ground. There is only one machine in the country that’s that size, that drives these posts, and it came here just for you guys.”

This grid is projected to have a life-span of 25-40 years and is estimated to have an annual production of over 200,000kWh.