By Bryanna Allen
STAFF WRITER | November 18,2014
WEST RUTLAND — Nestled between greenhouses and vegetable fields is a one-acre patch of land that will soon be home to more than 600 solar panels.
Greg and Gay Cox, owners of Boardman Hill Farm, are using their land to host a community solar farm. The organic farmers want to install panels on their property to offset the high electricity cost of farming. When the idea of the community solar farm crossed their path, they jumped on board and offered their land.
“We will be cutting about $400 a month off of our electric bill,” Greg Cox said. “All farms are energy hogs. We have greenhouses, walk in coolers … the amount of energy used is troubling. We’ve been wanting to change that.”
In about eight years, they will have paid off their portion of the solar array and will then get free electricity.
With solar panels lasting around 25 years, Cox feels they are getting more than their fair share of energy.
Cox said he sat down with all of his neighbors to discuss the changes.
“Some people are opposed to how they look,” he said. “But we decided to move some greenhouses to make room for the panels, so nothing is really changing. Now, it’s just panels instead of greenhouses.”
Roland Marx is owner of 10 solar panels in the new array. He is a member of the Mount Holly Conservation Trust, and started an initiative in town to switch to solar hot water heaters.
That got a lot of positive feedback from the community, and through talk and brainstorming, the idea for the solar farm on the organic farm was born.
“It seemed fitting when the farm was offered as a location,” Marx said. “Having sustainable energy on a farm that sells the community local produce, it just makes sense. The chickens will be able to roam the array.”
The 150 kilowatt — or 616 panels — solar array will be shared by roughly 20 local individuals and businesses and will be a net metering system, meaning that the owners of the panels who generate their own electricity can feed extra electricity back into the grid.
This system also credits owners based on how much energy they put back into the grid.
Green Mountain Power has a hand in many of these solar farms, including Boardman Hill Farm.
If the system generates more electricity than the owner uses in a month, GMP records a credit toward their next bill.
Another unique aspect to this project is that the owners agreed not to sell the Renewable Energy Credits, or RECs.
Many electricity companies now have to meet a Renewable Portfolio Standard — portions of their electricity shares need to be renewable, either through the construction and management of a renewable energy source, or by purchasing the credits from another source.
“Essentially, companies who cannot build their own alternative energy project buy the credits from another project, such as a community solar farm,” said George Twigg, director of public affairs at the Vermont Environmental Investment Corporation.
Owners of the solar arrays can sell the credits to these large companies for a hefty sum, bringing in extra money.
However, it means they disown the claims to being officially called a renewable project, while aiding in the claim that non-sustainable companies are in fact sustainable.
And since there is very little demand for RECs in Vermont, much of the business is moving to other parts of the country.
“I refused to be a part of a project that sold the credits,” Cox said, even though it meant not bringing in a significant amount of income.
By turning that down, it means the owners could be bringing in about $8,000 extra per year to be shared among them.
“That money adds up quickly over the years,” Marx said. “But we’re doing this solar array to make a positive difference, and we all figured we might as well do it right through and through.”