B y Jaime Thomas
Pawlet residents will soon be seeing a new development in one of their fields that will harness the power of the sun and turn it into energy.
Gene Bertsche, president of Northeast Community Solar, LLC, said he hopes to begin a project in late June or early July that will install 500 kilowatts of solar panels in Pawlet, Vt. The locally funded, $1.5 million venture will provide power for a commercial client in the region as well as several area businesses, such as Mettowee Valley Health Center.
Eventually, Bertsche said local customers will have the option to buy credits from his company.
“Ultimately it will be to the benefit of the community,” he said. Though he originally intended to offer this service to residents upon construction, he said banks would not provide an initial loan if he were to do so.
“Our biggest problem is financing. Banks in the area are very conservative and don’t have experience with this, so we’re working on educating them,” Bertsche said. Northeast Community Solar’s project was awarded a certificate of public good from the state of Vermont, which essentially grants permission to build and deems it will “promote the general good of the state.”
Under current Vermont law, Bertsche said this makes it unnecessary to seek approval from municipal government, but he is still doing so.
“Our goal is these developments need to be grassroots driven, so we want our neighbors to promote the project as beneficial,” he said, adding that so far there has been no strong pushback from locals. He said the company is doing its best to “walk its talk,” and officials want to invest in being good neighbors.
In keeping with this theme, Bertsche said the company will use the remaining five acres that aren’t used for solar panels on the 9-acre lot as farmland. He said officials have been working with a permaculturist to plan an organic garden and are absolutely opposed to taking farmland out of use. Additionally, the panels will introduce nothing into the ground that will ever inhibit farming.
As a birder, Bertsche said he also made sure bobolinks, a migratory bird nesting in the fields, will be able to use the area in the future.
“It is a visual departure from the existing landscapes, but the same can be said if you put a home or a slate quarry there,” he said, reiterating his commitment to the community, especially as a Middletown Springs resident.