Members of Friends of the Northfield Ridge and other local residents are researching the possibility of creating a solar orchard in Waitsfield or another Valley town where individuals could purchase their own solar tracker or solar panels.

The idea was first proposed during a discussion at a recent Waitsfield Planning Commission meeting when the commission was discussing standards for siting photovoltaic installations. At the time, the idea did not get much traction, according to Avril Howe, who brought it up.

But since that time Howe and others have been discussing the idea in light of the fact that several Waitsfield residents have offered to donate land for such a project - as much as 50 acres. Howe is a member of Friends of the Northfield Ridge, a group formed after a commercial wind company expressed an interest in commercial wind farming on the Northfield Ridge.

DISCUSSION PHASE

Although the project is still in its preliminary discussion phase, Howe said that members of the group are exploring the possibility of a solar orchard where individuals could buy a plot, much like people buy plots in a graveyard.

"People could buy one or as many plots as they'd like and put up as many fixed or tracking panels as they like. The solar panels would be tied into the grid, with the production credit from each one going back to the individual owners," she explained.

"This way people who live along scenic corridors that may not be appropriate for solar panels could participate, as well as those who have small lots or own property without good solar exposure could generate solar power," she added.

NET-METERING

In Vermont, net-metering allows individuals who install solar or wind power systems to receive credit for feeding energy back into the grid. Vermont also allows group net-metering so that a neighborhood, for example, could put in solar/wind installation and have it credited back to their association.

Howe said that a solar orchard, whether created by a group of citizens or under the auspices of the municipality, would solve some of the siting issues created by putting up solar panels and trackers in places where neighbors might object and where adequate screening might not be possible.

"We could avoid the problem of neighbors, and we really don't want to see all these panels in the historic village or in our beautiful open meadows," Howe said.

She said that at least two local landowners and possibly a third had expressed willingness to donate land for a solar orchard.

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