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Manchester Trying to Woo Solar Developers

A tentative proposal to build a 2.2 megawatt solar-powered electricity generation plant is no longer in the works but town officials are still hoping to attract a solar project with a request for proposal released last week.

Lee Krohn, Manchester’s planning director and zoning administrator, said he had been considering a solar project for some time.

"It seemed like an appropriate idea to pursue. It is referenced in the town plan that the town supports renewable energy projects in appropriate locations," he said. "It seemed like a way to try to earn some revenue for the town from land that we already own."

Among the companies Krohn contacted was EOS Ventures, of Hancock, Mass., which had developed a 2.2 megawatt solar-powered project that went online in Pownal last year. The Pownal project was turned over to an international company, Gestamp Renewables, for construction and operation.

EOS officials showed an interest in developing a project of a similar size on a piece of land in Manchester off Route 7. The municipal property, which is largely unused, is known locally as the "airport land."

At a Select Board meeting in April, John Guerin, director of energy development for EOS, cautioned the board members that the project would only move forward if it was chosen to be one of this year’s beneficiaries of Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Development, or SPEED, program.

Guerin also warned the board members that the program was highly competitive, especially because it was open to all kinds of renewable energy projects including wind, hydroelectric and biologically-created gases like the "Cow Power" program.

The Manchester project was not accepted for the SPEED program but Krohn is moving forward and released a request on July 2 for other solar power proposals.

"The idea still seemed worth pursuing," Krohn said Monday.

The request, which was supported by the Select Board and Town Manager John O’Keefe, is open to smaller projects than the one proposed by EOS, Krohn said, because a smaller project might be able to be completed more quickly.

A solar project in Manchester could have direct benefits. The town could negotiate a deal that would reduce its electricity costs by generating power that’s fed into the grid or the town could negotiate a more direct lease agreement that allows a piece of property the town already owns to generate some income. Because the company proposing the project would build it, a solar project could be built in Manchester at no direct cost to the town.

According to Krohn, there has already been some interest in the town’s request.

"We tried to keep it simple, clear, concise. There’s no explicit or implicit limit on the number of projects or the type or size. … Wouldn’t it be great if we could get one or more of these projects up and running in relatively short order," he said.

Any proposals received will be reviewed by Krohn and probably by a committee before being submitted to the Select Board as a recommendation.

The proposals are due and will be opened at noon on July 29.

Patrick McArdle is a reporter for the Rutland Herald. His reports are part of a partnership with VPR and the Times Argus and Rutland Herald.
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