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Electric departments select builders for solar farms

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Proposed solar site

Stowe’s gravel pit sits next to the proposed site of a new municipal solar generation facility.

The electric departments in Stowe and Hyde Park have selected a contractor to build their respective solar farms, and have announced the interest rates on the 25-year bonds that residents in both towns approved last week have been cut in half.

Say hello to Namaste.

That’s Namaste Solar, a Colorado-based company that presented the lowest cost projection for building each town’s solar farms.

The company was one of six bidding on both towns’ contracts, and Stowe chose it because it promised the most advanced equipment at the best price, said Matthew Rutherford with the Stowe Electric Department.

“They been around 10 years, they’re employee-owned, have had no unprofitable year yet, and they carry no debt,” Rutherford said.

Namaste bid $2.2 million on the Stowe project. Other costs — such as permitting, landscaping and site work, and a 10 percent contingency — will bring the total project to just under $3.18 million.

Voters in both towns voted Jan. 19 to approve bonds of up to $3.3 million.

Carol Robertson, Hyde Park Electric’s manager, wouldn’t say if Namaste’s bid was the same in Hyde Park as in Stowe, since the utility and the solar company haven’t yet finalized the contract.

“With their solid track record, reputation, structure and financial strength, we have every reason to believe that Namaste Solar will deliver a quality solar project, on time and within budget,” Robertson said in an email.

The cost estimates aren’t the only numbers that have come in lower than predicted.

The blended interest rate that voters were presented with ahead of the Jan. 19 bond vote has been cut in half since then.

According to Kevin Weishaar, Stowe Electric’s controller, the final interest rate, including the federal clean renewable energy bond subsidy, is now 0.975 percent, for a total interest payment over the term of the loan of $408,277. That is $136,859 less than the original projection of $545,136 in interest. The federal government will pick more than $1 million in interest on the Union Bank loans.

The solar projects could break ground as early as mud season, Rutherford said, and ought to be online by the end of the year. Stowe and Hyde Park are the first Vermont utilities to build their own green energy production facilities since the Legislature last year required that higher percentages of electric departments’ energy portfolios come from renewable sources.

While state laws and power prices are mutable, these solar farms put Stowe and Hyde Park ahead of the curve, he said.

“We’ll have some established generation if there are any changes in the law or the energy markets,” Rutherford said.

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