Wily NEK Audience Refutes SunCommon Happy Talk, Hucksters Flummoxed

Feb 17, 2016 No Comments by

SunCommon’s salespeople were not prepared to defend their business model or their Albany “solar project” at a February 10th presentation in the Kingdom. The audience, better-informed than the salespeople, sniffed out:

  1. SunCommon’s sale of renewable energy credits to out-of-state polluters
  2. Deceptive use of the term “renewable”
  3. Failure to advance Vermont’s renewable energy goals
  4. Shifting costs to local ratepayers
  5. Freeloading on utility infrastructure
  6. Saturation of local grid

 

Here’s the Caledionian Record’s story on the meeting:

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2/12/2016 8:00:00 AM
SunCommon Solar Array Gets Icy Response In Albany

By Jennifer Hersey ClevelandStaff Writer

ALBANY — Representatives of SunCommon, a company planning to build a one-acre 150-kilowatt solar array in Lowell, got an icy reception from the folks gathered for a community meeting at the Albany Community School Wednesday evening.

Renewable energy policy activists took SunCommon to task for attempting to build a project in an area where the grid is already saturated and for calling the project “renewable” when the company has already sold renewable energy credits (REC) out of state.

Nicole Bourassa, SunCommon’s membership coordinator, and Ellen Gershun, its solar community organizer, attempted to explain how the net-metered project would work, but they were frequently interrupted by citizens of an area who feel they have had renewable energy projects foisted upon them.

“I know this is a touchy issue, particularly in this part of the state,” Gershun said. As the comments became more pointed, and people started asking questions that Gershun and Bourassa were ill-equipped to answer, she said, “I don’t think this is a constructive conversation anymore.”

According to Public Service Board (PSB) administrative service technician Kim Akielaszek, the PSB granted SunCommon its certificate of public good on Wednesday, the same day as the meeting. The application was filed in June, but was not acted upon until recently due to Vermont Electric Cooperative having met its 15 percent cap for net-metered electricity for 2015, Akielaszek wrote in an e-mail.

The project would be built on an acre of land owned by John and Eileen Siminger, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.

The solar array would be located in Lowell, on the Eden Road, nearby the Lowell-Albany town line. It is expected to power 30 homes, and according to Bourassa, selling the project to customers was the true purpose of Wednesday’s meeting, not to provide a forum for venting about renewable energy policy in Vermont.
This story appears here by permission of the Caledonian Record.

The four-year-old Vermont company is guaranteeing a 7 percent return on members’ investment, Gershun said, collected in credits to Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) on members’ bills.

Bourassa explained that if one receives more electricity than she paid for, she must settle up with VEC at the end of the year. VEC pays the customer back if she receives less than she paid for.

“It sounds like a Ponzi scheme,” said Tom Stelter of Irasburg. “I don’t mind Ponzi schemes unless I’m the guy at the end.”

SunCommon does not build projects in places where they are not wanted, Gershun said. “If we got a huge uproar, that would probably stop it,” she said.

But Bourassa said SunCommon has already sold the RECs in order to get capital to build the half-million-dollar project.

Vermont found itself in a pickle when the state of Connecticut refused to buy anymore RECs from Vermont, because Vermont was still claiming the renewable energy to meet its renewable energy standards when the bragging rights, so to speak, belonged to the state that purchased the RECs.

“You can’t claim that you’re using renewable energy,” said Byron Dolan.

Gershun said they could claim they are building solar projects.

“I want to point out to you that you said ‘renewable’ twice,” said Carol Maroni of Craftsbury, who serves the region as its director on the VEC board. “You know this isn’t clean energy if you’re selling the RECs.”

Developers need to start keeping those RECs in Vermont so the state can meet its renewable energy standard of 90 percent renewables by 2050, Maroni said.

Dolan, Maroni and Judith Jackson of Irasburg, a founding member of the Irasburg Ridgeline Alliance, said they would feel more positively about the project if that were the case.

The company will start selling RECs to Vermont in 2017, when the renewable energy standard takes effect, Gershun said.

Carol Koob said it is her understanding that the transmission lines here can’t handle more power, and can’t even take all the power produced by the Lowell wind project.

Gershun said she was unaware of the grid saturation issue.

Transmission line limits should have been addressed in the PSB process, Jackson said.

This is considered a small project, Maroni said. “Because of that a transmission study did not need to be done.”

It does not make sense to build projects where feeding their electricity into the grid requires shutting down another source, Maroni said. “It’s not about building projects. It’s about getting this electricity on the grid.”

“There’s no net gain,” said John Brabant of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

There are only so many open fields that work for solar sites, Maroni said. What happens when Vermont needs to start meeting its goals and finds that all of the open land is being used to help Massachusetts avoid building projects. The state is already seeing trees cut down to make way for solar, she said to the applause of many in the room.

Brabant asked if SunCommon considered “good” sites to be ones near the demand for electricity. Williston has lots of open land, and it is close to the greatest demand in the state, he said. Then again, that land is probably expensive, he added.

Gordon Bradstreet of Plainfield, N.H., who has owned land in Lowell for 40 years, asked Gershun to take a straw poll, but she declined.

“You are welcome to submit comments,” she said.

Dolan urged people to contact their legislators about the state’s energy policy. “There’s an incestuous relationship right now between the Legislature and the administration and the renewable energy folks,” he said.

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