CAVENDISH, Vt. – Many say that one of the big contributors to the sustained success of small towns like Cavendish is the ability to see potential obstacles before they come near and then plan for them.
The Town of Cavendish Energy Committee has been diligently working on just that thing.
Members know that we live in a world that is overly dependent upon electricity and its by-product of technology. They know that changes have come and will continue to come as we progress towards a more globalized society.
For a few years now, this committee reports it has been looking for ways to enhance the lives of the town’s citizenry through solar power. This is not to discount their efforts to educate and provide resources for the town in several other areas, such as composting, weatherization, and more.
When the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant shut down its 620 megawatt facility in 2014, a major power void was left behind.
One which the residents of Cavendish and the rest of Vermont wanted to see filled in as clean and renewable a way as possible.
The shift was towards a less fossil fuel dependent infrastructure. Even before the closure, there were ideas and backup plans forming at the state level.
Suddenly solar was everywhere. From residential rooftop units to full scale solar farms, harvesting this unlimited resource became a huge financial sector all on its own. Companies large and small took advantage of the multiple benefits of this power source.
Things like incentives, rebates and “free electricity” buzzed through public hearings on a regular basis, as third-party contractors and financiers came though to help communities start up their own facilities. This is still an everybody-wins scenario, just with a few extra participants.
Fortunately, while the Town of Cavendish was working with just such a third-party group, the process broke down and the town self-financed its solar array.
The upfront costs involved can seem daunting at first, but as the Town of Cavendish is experiencing, the positives make the negatives seem silly. Output from the 576 300-watt panel array has produced a surplus of energy credits, this after supplying the needs of several town buildings.
Credits are produced by Green Mountain Power Company when net metering is used to transfer electricity back into the grid. This is as opposed to storing the generated electricity in a costly infrastructure of battery banks. The output is used to calculate the offset on the customer’s power bill.
The downside of this is that these excess credits expire on Dec. 31.
Now faced with how to best utilize these credits, the Energy Committee and the Cavendish Selectboard have been weighing their options.
During a previous Selectboard meeting, a vote to purchase and install three heat pump units in the Municipal Building, for a cost not to exceed $13,000, was passed.
The math and expectations cause this to be a near no-brainer for those with foresight, the committee believes. These high-efficiency units will obviously be run on electricity, which would be covered under the surplus of solar credits, which places their operational costs at zero.
While keeping the current fuel heating system in place as a backup, it can be expected that the consumption of fuel will be driven down. For the Municipal Building, that comes to around $2,000 a year.
There are already ideas on the table over what to do with this cascade of savings. The expected payback on this system is near six years. With a life expectancy of around 20 years, the town is then looking at 14 years of free heat for the building. This will likely result in a continued building of credit surpluses, which will again cause the town to consider how best to distribute the rewards from the solar array.
The system bid was awarded to HB Energy Solutions of Springfield, which is currently offering a rebate of $1,800 on the $14,660 system.
There were other options, including a leased type contract with Green Mountain Power, but the Energy Committee weighed the facts and chose what it believes will likely have been the best option.
It is expected that these units will be installed before the end of the calendar year.