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South Burlington Plans Solar Array Atop Closed Landfill

Taylor Dobbs
South Burlington's city council chairwoman, Helen Riehle, said a new solar array on top of the city's closed landfill will provide $5 million in savings to taxpayers over the next 25 years.

South Burlington is planning to put a solar array on top of an old landfill to get renewable energy and financial savings out of a piece of land that can’t be used for much else, officials said Tuesday.

The city is working with Encore Renewable Energy, which is responsible for the build-out of the project, and Altus Power America, which will own the solar panels.

The plan calls for the installation of solar panels on top of a three-foot soil “cap” on top of the landfill. Environmental regulators at the Agency of Natural Resources signed off on the plan after they got assurances from developers that the project wouldn’t compromise that cap.

Chad Farrell, the president and founder of Encore Renewable Energy, said that provision adds a challenge to building on the site, behind the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

“There are additional challenges that sites like these pose in comparison with typical ‘green field’ solar applications,” he said. “Mainly because the remedy here to protect human health and the environment includes a soil cap – a 3-foot-thick soil cap – we cannot penetrate that cap. We cannot compromise the remedy that’s in place.”

That means developers had to figure out a way to keep the solar panels in place without burying a base in the ground.

“So the solar array, the racking will sit on concrete ballast blocks, which will anchor the array in place and protect against the wind load while also maintaining the integrity of the cap and not penetrating it whatsoever,” Farrell said.

"It's estimated that South Burlington taxpayers will save up to $5 million in municipal and school district electrical costs over the 25-year life of this project." - Helen Riehle, South Burlington City Council chair

South Burlington city officials said the project has another perk: It will save South Burlington taxpayers money without an up-front investment of public funds.

“It’s estimated that South Burlington taxpayers will save up to $5 million in municipal and school district electrical costs over the 25-year life of this project,” said South Burlington City Council Chairwoman Helen Riehle.

Private developers are providing the money to build the solar panels, officials said, and they’ll enjoy federal tax credits the city wouldn’t be entitled to if it owned the solar array.

The city plans to buy net metering credits from those private owners at a discount, Farrell said. That means the city will pay for the right to sell the power generated by the panels back onto the power grid, but will be able to sell that power at a slight markup. Those sales will offset the cost of electricity the city has to buy from other sources.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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