It’s official: Orange County now possesses the biggest solar array in Vermont.
A public celebration was held recently at what used to be a wasteland— acres and acres of rough gravel patching over the remains of the Elizabeth Copper Mine. Leveling and covering those 30 level acres cost $70 million over 14 years.
Now the site is covered with brand new solar panels, 20,000 of them closely spaced, that will produce five megawatts of electricity. As a comparison, the huge solar display visible from the Interstate in Sharon produces just two megawatts.
Even at that productive rate, it will take a while to recover the amount spent on the solar project— some $18 million.
Once it is activated, power from the array will flow through the lines of the Green Mountain Power Co. for at least the next 30 years, according to the terms of a contract.
The huge array, a controversial idea at first because of its scale, is partly a tribute to the foresight and determination of Dori Wolfe of Strafford, who first floated the idea and then fought for it with determination.
It also marks a productive end to a long Strafford story—its growth and prosperity due to the Elizabeth Mine, which maintained its highest production between 1942-58. It produced a high of more than seven million pounds of copper in one year, along with 105,000 tons of pyrrhotite concentrate.
Overall production of copper was about 8.6 million pounds. When the mine closed, it left an area that was not only ugly to look at but was potentially dangerous.
That led the federal government to designate the mine a Superfund site, leading to the $70 million cleanup.
The new solar array is expected to produce 8,675,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year for 30 years—but it might not be profitable for the first 20 years, it is estimated.