Smaller renewable power projects up 58 percent

Solar-PV2

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont's reliance on solar power is continuing to increase as producers take advantage of federal tax credits and the state's growing affection for cleaner energy sources, officials said Tuesday.

The amount of power to be produced by small renewable energy projects that have been built or permitted is up 58 percent over last year, and the vast majority are solar, said Darren Springer, the deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Public Service.

One incentive that is encouraging solar projects to be completed by the end of the year is a pending change in Vermont's net metering program that, beginning Jan. 1, will reduce the amount those small producers are paid for their power from 20 cents per kilowatt hour to 19 cents. Projects smaller than 15 kilowatts will continue to receive the 20 cent payment, Springer said.

Small projects are those that can produce up to 150 kilowatts. So far this year, power from those projects that have been installed or permitted total 19.8 megawatts, compared to 12.5 megawatts in the same period last year.

One renewable project that went online this week, though it is larger than 150 kilowatts, is a system in Montpelier of more than 2,000 solar panels that will provide about 15 percent of the power used by the National Life Group, company officials said.

"We're seeing pretty significant growth as we approach certain deadlines," said Springer.

The state now gets about 4 percent of its power from the small power projects, a figure that is growing, Springer said.

"Net metering is a good barometer because you're covering everything from the 500 kilowatt system at National Life to the 5 kilowatt system someone is putting on their roof," Springer said.

In addition to the change in price, solar producers are working to take advantage of a federal tax credit that is currently scheduled to run through 2016, Springer said.

Earlier this year Vermont enacted a new "net metering" law that increases the amount of power small sources of electricity, such as solar panels on a home roof or in a yard, can send to the electric grid from 4 percent of a utility's peak load to 15 percent.

Springer said that since 1999 Vermont has installed or has in the permitting process about 68.5 megawatts of net-metered power, which includes about 10 megawatts from projects larger than 150 kilowatts.

He said the smaller projects are easier to permit than the larger ones.

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