Morrisville Water & Light is harnessing the power of the sun to: 1. Get greener. 2. More than make up for the hydroelectric power it lost in a dam-licensing spat with the state government.
The municipal utility brought its long-awaited Trombley Hill solar facility online in late May and is now working on two other projects just off Route 100 that will add even more home-grown solar to its portfolio over the next couple of years.
Meanwhile, the utility awaits a final decision from the Vermont Supreme Court on how it operates two dams on the Lamoille River in Morristown and a third that creates and holds back the Green River Reservoir in Hyde Park and Eden.
All three dams use water to spin turbines that produce electricity, and it expects to lose capacity because of new operating standards for dams relicensed through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“We got dinged a little bit on hydro during the (dam) relicensing process,” said Craig Myotte, general manager of Morrisville Water & Light General.
The three solar facilities would contribute nearly 4.5 million kilowatt-hours per year toward Morrisville’s need for 50 million kilowatt-hours per year. That’s roughly 9 percent of the utility’s portfolio, which also features renewable sources such as its three local hydro facilities, landfill gas facilities in Massachusetts and power purchased from Hydro-Quebec.
Before the relicensing, Morrisville’s three dams were producing 10 million kilowatt-hours of power per year. New operating standards will reduce that total, but the solar expansion “will more than compensate for what we lost in hydro,” Myotte said.
Mixing solar and hydro power works nicely because solar tends to produce more during the warmer months, while hydro plants post higher output during the colder months.
All told, 72 percent of Morrisville’s energy portfolio is now produced by renewable sources; the three solar facilities will push that figure close to 80 percent.
Substituting solar power
Morrisville’s Trombley Hill facility, with fixed panels on 6 acres of land owned by Myotte’s utility near the intersection of Trombley Hill and Center roads, has been in the works for half a decade. Construction finally got started last fall, went right on through the winter and the 855 kW facility began churning out power in May.
“I give them credit for working right through the winter,” Myotte said.
Myotte and his staff estimate the facility will produce 1.5 million kilowatt-hours of power per year — enough to power 208 homes.
Burlington–based Encore Renewable Energy was the developer for the Trombley Hill project. It was done in collaboration with the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority, a conglomerate of 12 municipal utilities across Vermont; Morrisville is a member.
Originally, the plan was for Morrisville to be the sole owner of the Trombley Hill facility, but the other members of the power supply authority joined the effort late in the planning stage.
The solar project is part of Vermont’s Standard Offer Program, which aims to create more small renewable energy facilities that offer long-term, fixed-price contracts. As part of the state contract, Morrisville and the other members of the power supply authority make a small profit on every kilowatt-hour produced and sold. The Vermont Public Power Supply Authority has several similar projects in the works.
The Lawrence Brook Solar project should be next. Located alongside Route 100 on the former Davis farm, the 2,200 kW facility will be larger than Trombley Hill, producing 3.8 million kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power 535 homes. The 7,800 fixed solar panels will be located on 10 acres.
Morrisville has filed for a certificate of public good for the Lawrence Brook project and Myotte hopes it could be running a year from now.
Lawrence Brook is another cooperative effort with Encore Renewable and the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority, but unlike the Trombley Hill facility, Morrisville alone will take all the electricity.
“We’re not sharing with the 11 other parties,” Myotte said. “We’re taking all of the output on this one.”
Morrisville’s third solar facility could also be just off Route 100, a little closer to the village, on property owned by Hess’s Used Cars. Its target date is 2021 at the earliest. It would be a 2,100 kW facility; like Trombley Hill, it would be a collaborative effort involving Encore Renewable and the 12 members of the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority, with all 12 members buying and using the power.
The power supply authority also has several projects similar to Morrisville’s in towns like Hardwick and Lyndon that could add even more solar to Morrisville’s portfolio.