POWNAL, Vt. -- The largest solar power facility in the Northeast could be in place before the end of the year at the site of the former Green Mountain Race Track, officials said this week.
Tyler Fairbank, CEO of EOS Ventures, a Berkshire County-based renewable energy company, told the Selectmen Thursday that the "aggressive" timeline for the project is because of federal financing opportunities that will be gone by 2011.
If all goes well, Fairbank said, permitting applications will be submitted in March, financing secured in June, with construction and commissioning to be completed in September and November, respectively.
He said the project will cost upward of $10 million, making financing one of the major hurdles to overcome, in addition to the permitting process. He said that financing would be secured through a combination of debt and equity.
"Getting the equity for this project is going to be the challenge," he said, adding that his company has had a high success rate with financing projects. In 2009, he said, EOS Ventures worked on 11 renewable energy projects in the Northeast.
EOS Ventures grew from the wind turbine project, "Zephyr," at Jiminy Peak ski resort in Hancock, Mass. Fairbank said he owns the resort with his father, Brian Fairbank, its founder, and Joseph O'Donnell. He said the resort's wind project was successful and attracted attention to the point where a financing company seemed like a reasonable venture.
Carter Wilding-White, regional director for Alteris, said his company is the oldest and largest of its kind in Vermont. It has worked on residential and commercial projects all over the state, including Pownal.
Fairbank said the permitting process is the other major hurdle.
"Right now, we don't see any major red flags," he said, adding that the site's proposed location is in a floodplain.
Board Chairman Nelson Brownell said the permitting process primarily involves the state, not the town, but the town will be asked by the state for its comments and concerns.
Wilding-White said the 10-acre strip of panels would be built near the southern end of the 144-acre former track site, where the horse barns were. He said the panels would be angled away from Route 7. They would stand four feet off the ground on the low end and six feet on the high end. He said electricity produced by the panels would go directly to the power grid, where it would be managed by the utility that owns the lines, Central Vermont Public Service Corp.
Fairbank said he doesn't know how it would affect residents' electric bills.
He and members of the board were unable to reach a clear understanding of how the facility would be taxed. Brownell said he has spoken to state Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford, on whether the facility would be tax-exempt because of the nature of the power it produces, but so far he isn't sure.
If it's not exempt, Brownell said, the listers would do their job by assessing the facility.
The land the facility would sit on is owned by Green Mountain Energy Park, LLC, formerly known as Progress Partners. Fairbank said EOS Ventures has leased the land from the park, which was a required step in getting the project accepted into the Sustainably Priced Energy Development Program. SPEED, as it is known, is a state program that funds renewable energy projects at above-market rates to help them proliferate and create a market.
According to www.vermontspeed.squarespace.com, the program's Web site, 25 years of funding at 30 cents per kilowatt hour is available for solar projects.
Selectman Ronald Bisson said that if taxpayers were funding the project, it wouldn't be good for the town if the town couldn't tax it.
Fairbank said the project's construction and financing may create a few jobs, but the ultimate goal is energy production, not economic stimulus. He said solar facilities require little maintenance and have few, if any, moving parts.
Brownell said there is a possibility that, once completed, the facility would attract support industries, which may hire a work force.
Peter Odierna, executive director of the Bennington County Industrial Corp., said the type of power generation being proposed is needed in the state for power reliability. If the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is not relicensed, he said, solar facilities could proliferate across the state to fill the power demand.