State legislators, energy companies, local representatives and educators broke ground on a 5-MW solar project in Middlebury, Vermont on Tuesday. Upon completion, the solar array will supply Middlebury College with 30% of its electricity.

Credit: Encore Renewable Energy

Middlebury College will buy 100% of the electricity generated at the site as part of its Energy2028 initiative, which calls for the college’s use of 100% renewable energy by 2028. The project was blessed by Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation.

“For many years, along with other Vermont leaders, I have been spotlighting the economic benefits to come with going ‘all-in’ on investments in clean energy and green infrastructure,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). “As we grapple with the consequences of the climate crisis, it is clear these are not just economic benefits. It is also an economic imperative. I am so proud to see that urgency being demonstrated so clearly right here in Middlebury.”

Encore Renewable Energy, the project developer, will complete the construction of the array in 2022. Located about two miles from campus on 30 acres of college-owned land off of South Street Extension, the project will include 29,000 panels mounted on single-axis trackers that will follow the sun east to west over the course of the day.

“The solar project will allow the college to receive clean electricity from a new, locally generated source,” said David Provost, Middlebury’s executive VP for finance and administration. “With this groundbreaking, we are further diversifying our energy mix as well.”

The college meets the other 70% of its electricity needs with electricity generated by its biomass plant, other local solar energy production sites and power from Green Mountan Power’s grid, which is 100% carbon-free and 68% renewable, on the way to becoming 100% renewable by 2030.

“This is a great example of how our community partners make us stronger. This new resource will offer a rich source of study and exploration for our students, staff and faculty,” said Middlebury College President Laurie Patton. “We are grateful to the Middlebury Select Board for seeing the value of this project and for our partners, Encore Renewable Energy and Green Mountain Power.”

Initially, flocks of sheep, rather than fossil fuel-powered mowers, will provide vegetation management at the site. Eventually, the site will feature pollinator-friendly plants and shrubs that will attract an increased number of bees, butterflies and other insects that will help support crop production in the Middlebury area.

To fulfill the state requirements regarding grassland birds, the college will dedicate up to 95 acres of its land to be managed as a habitat for bobolinks and other grassland birds. Once the solar array is constructed, it will produce about 50 times the energy required annually to power Forest Hall, a Middlebury College residence hall that houses 155 students. The new solar project will join eight other Middlebury College solar arrays on and off-campus that comprise just over one megawatt.

The groundbreaking for the solar project follows the College’s celebration in July of the start-up of the largest anaerobic digester in the Northeast at the Goodrich Farm in Salisbury. The digester, which creates renewable natural gas from cow manure and food waste, will supply about one-third of the energy that the college uses for heating and cooling. Along with using 100% renewable energy sources, Middlebury’s Energy 2028 plan calls for reducing energy usage by 25%, divesting Middlebury’s endowment of investments in fossil fuels and educating and involving the entire campus community in its implementation.

News item from Encore Renewable Energy

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