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Elizabeth Mine Solar Project
Maggie Cassidy article from the Valley News - June 8, 2015
Wolfe Energy and Brightfields Development proposed 4.99 MW solar project
An area solar consulting firm is preparing to apply for state approval of a large proposed solar array on the site of the former Elizabeth Mine, a so-called “Superfund” site that underwent a massive cleanup in the early 2000s.
Dori Wolfe, of Wolfe Energy, and others have long eyed the 1,400-acre site as well-suited for solar because most other uses are banned due to its Superfund designation. The Environmental Protection Agency spent more than $50 million cleaning up the defunct copper mine after finding contaminants from mining from the early 1800s to 1950s were reaching the area’s waterways.
Wolfe’s company has teamed up with Massachusetts-based Brightfields Development to pursue the 4.9 megawatt project, with plans to file for a Section 248 petition — which Wolfe described as “like an Act 250 but for energy projects” — in the coming months.
“(Brightfields officials are) expert at remediating brownfields and repurposing them into solar fields,” Wolfe said. “So working with the EPA (and) working with the Superfund is in their bag of tricks, which is why I partnered with them.”
The array would be about twice as big as one in Sharon easily visible from Interstate 89. Once completed, the array would feed enough power onto the Green Mountain Power grid for about 1,200 homes annually, according to a brochure from the developers. The developers would enter into a power purchase agreement with GMP, who would buy the energy.
Dave Deegan, an EPA spokesman for the New England region, said that the EPA has been working with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the developers “to make sure ... the design and implementation do not adversely impact the cleanup” that the EPA undertook.
“Many solar projects have been installed in similar settings to the tailing impoundment (mostly landfills) without any adverse impact and we expect that the solar project can be designed and implemented in a manner that does not adversely impact the completed or to be completed cleanup actions,” Deegan said in an email. “The permitting, funding and public outreach for the development is entirely independent of the EPA Superfund activities.”
The EPA conducted the first five-year review of its cleanup process last year, and Deegan said the review found that the steps that have been taken so far “(remain) protective of public health and the environment, but that the land use restrictions must be put in place for the cleanup to achieve long-term protection.”
Wolfe said the project would power $4 million worth of local construction jobs, professional fees and rentals, but that the total cost would be much greater and is yet to be determined.
Before petitioning the Public Service Board, the developers first must file a 45-day notice of their petition to local and regional planning commissions in Strafford and Sharon. To make the project a reality, developers would have to pay to upgrade sections of Green Mountain Power’s transmission lines in those towns, Wolfe said.
Those commissions can hold public hearings and may “make recommendations ... to the Public Service Board” and the developers before the petition is filed, according to state statute.
Wolfe spoke about the project at a Strafford Selectboard meeting in late May. John Freitag, chairman of the Strafford Selectboard, said the issue is scheduled again for the June 10 meeting, at which time the board might vote to support it or might vote to take more public comment at a subsequent meeting.
In a letter that he wrote to his fellow board members, which he provided to the Valley News, he said that “from what I know at this point, I would be in favor of the project,” but he nevertheless believes it would be “prudent, given its magnitude, to get more details on the project and to have some process whereby the public can ask questions and comment.
“This is the largest commercial project to be built in Strafford since the copper mines reopened in the 1940s,” he wrote.
Wolfe said legal counsel has told her that once the petition is filed, the process could take six months or more. The developers are aiming to finish the project by the end of 2016 in order to be eligible for certain tax credits related to renewable energy development.
Although the project would be responsible for upgrading transmission lines from the village of South Strafford to the mine site, and from the end of a line in Sharon to a substation, the project has been made possible by Green Mountain Power’s ongoing upgrade of the transmission lines up over Sharon Hill, Wolfe said, adding that those upgrades were planned in advance of the solar project.
Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said that project is on track to be completed by 2016.
Wolfe said the companies and GMP are still examining what would be required of developers for their portion of the transmission line upgrades, including whether any new rights of way might be needed.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.
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