HOME PAGE: News - April 28, 2015




Hyde Park Voters to Decide on Solar Option

    by Andrew Martin

    A local utility could be going greener in the near future. The Hyde Park Electric Department is in the process of building or adding a solar facility. On Tuesday, May 5, voters of the Village of Hyde Park will consider a special article that would help fund the building of this facility. If the article is not approved by voters, Hyde Park officials will seek to have the facility funded in other manners. An informational meeting was held on Tuesday, April 21, at the Hyde Park Town Offices to better inform voters and Hyde Park residents on the status of the project, which is known as Hyde Park Solar. Roughly 40 residents turned out for the meeting, which began at 6 p.m.

Hyde Park Village General Manager Carol Robertson speaks during the special informational meeting held at the Hyde Park Municipal Offices on Tuesday, April 21. The meeting informed voters and residents of Hyde Park on the progress of the Hyde Park community solar project. A special bond vote will take place on Tuesday, May 5, as part of the annual village meeting. The bond would fund the building of the $3 million facility and is one of the two options available to fund the building of the project.  - Martin photo

    The special article that registered voters of Hyde Park Village will be casting their ballots on asks “Shall general obligation bonds for the Village of Hyde Park in an amount not to exceed three-million dollars ($3,000,000) payable out of Electric Department revenue, be issued, subject to Public Service Board approval, for the purpose of constructing a one megawatt (1MW) solar generation facility, to be located within the Town of Hyde Park?”.
    If the article, which will be voted on by Australian Ballot, is approved by voters then the village will move forward with applying for the zero interest New Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) through the Vermont Economic Development Authority. The application deadline for the CREBs is June 3 and village officials were only made aware of the fact that the CREBs were available on March 31, creating a tight window in which village officials can apply for the funds. Along with the benefit of the zero interest bond, this option would also allow the village to own the solar facility from day one, which would not be the case in the other option available for the construction of the facility.
    A successful application and the CREBs being awarded to Hyde Park would have a number of positive financial impacts for the project, the village, and the town, according to Carol Robertson, general manager for the Village of Hyde Park.
    “Electric revenues can pay for Hyde Park Solar and increase cash flow by replacing higher priced energy with lower cost solar energy,” Robertson explained.
    “Hyde Park Electric would pay approximately $100,000 annually to retire a $3 million zero interest bond plus approximately $27,000 in other expenses, for total annual payments of $127,000 over 30 years,” Robertson continued, adding that Hyde Park Solar is projected to produce roughly 14 percent of the power her utility currently requires at a cost of just 10 cents per kWh.
    “Our rate structure is based on purchasing power at higher than 10 cents per kWh… the increased cash flow covers the annual $127,000 payment and results in additional cash equal to approximately 3% of Hyde Park Electric revenue requirements in the first year alone,” she added. Many of Hyde Park’s contracts to purchase power are up after 2018, making the 14 percent that could be produced by the solar facility even more beneficial.
    Along with these financial benefits the solar facility would also serve to help Hyde Park Electric avoid penalty payments to the state.
    “Hyde Park Solar will allow us to avoid Alternate Compliance Payments required by the RESET bill in 2017 and each year thereafter,” Robertson explained. The RESET bill is currently before the Senate, and the RESET program that would be created by the bill going into effect will require that Hyde Park Electric and similar utilities acquire 55 percent of their electricity from renewable resources beginning in 2018 or incur the compliance payment.
    “In 30 years, the avoided cost savings total is expected to exceed $3 million for Hyde Park Electric… avoided cost in the first year is expected to be 3% of our 2015 revenue requirements.”
    “Whether on cash flow basis or avoided cost basis, the zero interest bond can save millions over and above the cost of the bond,” Robertson finished.
    If voters do not approve the use of the bonds to fund the construction of the solar facility then Hyde Park officials will move forward with a second option to build the project. That option centers around an outside investor paying to build the solar facility in Hyde Park. The electric utility would then enter a power purchase agreement with that outside investor. Such outside financial partners invest in projects such as Hyde Park Solar in order to receive tax and depreciation incentives. Over the course of time Hyde Park would have the option to purchase the solar facility at a later date.
    Hyde Park officials have contracted with the company Encore Redevelopment to aid them in the process of building the facility. As part of their work, officials from Encore will seek to procure competitive bid proposals from financial investors for the project if voters do not approve the bond vote. If voters do approve the bond vote on May 5 then Encore will seek construction bids for the project instead.
    Hyde Park officials would like to see the facility constructed in 2016 no matter which option is chosen in order to ensure that it is completed and producing power before the RESET bill takes effect and penalties are incurred.
    Following a presentation by Robertson and Encore Redevelopment’s Chad Farrell during the April 21 meeting the event was opened up to questions from the public. Many of the roughly 40 individuals present questioned just how large the facility will be and where it will be located. While town and village officials have not yet selected a final locale for the facility they do know that it will be roughly six to seven acres in size. It was also explained that the facility that is planned, which would feature set ground mounted solar panels placed on racks that stand roughly nine feet tall, suffers a ½ percent degradation in efficiency each year. This would translate to the facility still producing at approximately 80 percent efficiency in 40 years, long after the proposed bond would have been paid off.
    Another question raised was why not build a larger facility that would produce more than 14 percent of Hyde Park’s required electricity. Farrell explained that a larger facility would not be ideal given the fact that solar energy production can be slightly inconsistent. Questions of the cost to decommission the facility when it was no longer producing power were also raised. Robertson and Farrell explained that the cost of the decommissioning of such a facility can actually be fairly minimal given the valuable materials that exist in the panels. The cost of the maintenance of the facility was also discussed. Robertson explained that Encore Redevelopment is creating a bid proposal that includes maintenance and upkeep costs. The $3 million figure is also the most that the project could cost, and village officials hope to possibly bring the project in under that figure.
    Another question raised at the meeting was the timing of the bond vote. Village and utility officials have had to move very quickly to procure the CREBs, meaning that there has not been much discussion of this option. Some residents raised concerns over this fact, while others questioned if residents of Hyde Park who do not live in the village would be able to vote on the bond. Robertson reiterated that only Hyde Park Village residents will be able to vote on May 5. She also emphasized the fact that if voters do not approve the bond vote she and other officials will move forward with the second option to build the facility.
    “The bonds are a better option, but the power purchase agreement route is still a very good alternative,” Farrell said at the meeting.
    The polls for the Australian Ballot bond vote will be open from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the Hyde Park Village Offices on Tuesday, May 5. The annual meeting will take place beginning at 7 p.m. at Hyde Park Elementary School on the same day.



This Week's Photos

This young moose has been seen in the area of North Wolcott village ranging up to Denton Hill in Craftsbury since last fall. Locals believe it was orphaned sometime during the fall hunting season, and it has not left the area since. It can be seen above in a field of young Christmas trees located between the Wild Branch and Denton Auto in Craftsbury. It remained in the area of the field for the early part of last week.   - Martin photo





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