Construction Underway of 28-Acre Solar Array in Strafford, Thetford
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Construction—and plenty of trucking—is underway for a seven-megawatt (7MW) solar array at Elizabeth Mine
The array, designed by Brightfields Development LLC of Wellesley, Mass., will be more than twice the size of the solar installation visible from I-89 in Sharon. According to Brightfields’ website, the project will provide electricity sufficient to power 1,200 homes annually. The array will cover 28 acres of the Elizabeth Mine Superfund site, including acreage in both Strafford and Thetford.
A copper mine operated at the site from the early 1800s until 1958. Since 2001, the EPA has spent $70 million remediating the abandoned mine, including a 2011 “capping remedy” to cover contaminated areas.
Brightfield’s array was designed to protect the integrity of the cap, according to project manager Michael Singer. Singer explained yesterday that Brightfields, which specializes in brownfields redevelopment, designed the project, but will not be the owner/operator. Greenwood Energy of Boston and New York City, he said, has “stepped in as an equity partner,” and is now managing the construction phase.
The solar project received a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board (PSB) last spring.
Singer said that the array is expected to go online by the end of the year.
When asked why the project has been referred to locally as a 5MW array but is described on Brightfields’ website as a 7MW array, he responded, “It’s both.”
The array will generate 7MW of direct current, Singer explained. However, the process of transforming the energy to alternating current—the form required by use in homes—reduces the power to 5MW.
The Elizabeth Mine solar project did not need approval from town officials, but the Strafford Selectboard made a point of “intervening” in the Public Service Board’s review of the application. Atty. Paul Gilles represented the town in that process, according to Strafford Selectboard member John Freitag.
As a result of that intervention, the selectboard signed a stipulation agreement in March 2016 that put conditions on hauling for the Elizabeth Mine project, with an emphasis on safety and damage to infrastructure, Freitag said.
The stipulation agreement also provided that by the end of 10 years, all the renewable energy credits (RECs) from this project will go towards meeting the goal of 90% renewable energy in Vermont by 2050.
The fate of the RECs was an important issue for the Strafford board.
“Each town in Vermont is now required to put forth plans on how they will meet their share of providing renewable energy sources,” Freitag pointed out.
“Many large projects, like those proposed by Ranger Solar or the one proposed for the Greater Upper Valley Regional landfill, have their renewable energy credits sold to Connecticut or Massachusetts, and these projects will not count towards what is required by towns to meet the Vermont goals,” he said.
Freitag emphasized that these projects bring big profits to developers. Strafford’s involvement in the PSB review, he added, showed him that there “is a flexibility” in the permitting process.
Freitag suggested that it behooves towns and the state to ensure that alternative energy projects—be they solar, wind, or hydro—are developed in a way that will help to meet the state’s goals.
“We’ve got to balance needs, and not just be a third-world dumping ground for solar panels,” he said.
Last year, the Sharon Selectboard was similarly granted intervenor status for a proposed 500 kW array off Route 132, the application for which is still pending before the PSB.
Two routes will be used to bring materials to the Elizabeth Mine site.
An estimated 300 trucks carrying stone and gravel will travel on Route 132 from Thetford, and then to the mine site via Tyson and Mine Roads over the next seven weeks or so.
There will be no more than 30, 10-wheeled dump trucks a day during this phase, Freitag said.
Another 368 flatbed trucks, carrying ballast blocks and then solar panels, will exit I-89 in Sharon and go through South Strafford village. There will be no more than 12 of these trucks a day, and they will travel in groups of three at a time.
Trucking of ballast blocks is expected to end sometime in June, with trucking of solar panels occurring during the latter half of June. The transport of panels will require only about two trucks per day.
Freitag said the contractors will station flaggers on the routes, and put up extra signage.
Due to the narrowness of the road across from Coburn’s Store, this area will be blocked off while trucks are going through the village.
Contractors have arranged to have the Orange County Sheriff’s Department station an officer in town throughout the trucking phase. Strafford Constable Ed Eastman will also monitor the situation.
A water truck will be available to control dust on the unpaved section of Mine Road.
“We realize this will be an inconvenience,” Freitag said. “People who have concerns or notice safety problems should feel free to contact any selectboard member.”
Weekly updates will be posted on www.straffordvt.org, and on the strafford listserv.
Although the trucking for the solar installation is substantial, it is far less than that which occurred during the Superfund project, Freitag noted.
The EPA’s project saw more than 10,000 truckloads of material brought into Strafford over the course of the project, Freitag said.
A second, $10-million phase for the mine clean-up is still planned— when EPA and state funding are available, Freitag said.
Strafford officials have been told that this phase will not happen this year, and that EPA will send through fewer than 30 trucks this year, he said.