Vermont's largest solar-electric array, and the largest station of its kind north of New Jersey, will start generating electricity from sunlight sometime in early December. Christened the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm, the 15-acre energy station-located on the west side of U.S. Route 7 adjacent to the VUHS athletic fields-will "harvest" 1-megawatt of electricity from the Sun that will power the equivalent of nearly 200 homes. The photovoltaic electricity generated will be fed, via electrical inverter, to Green Mountain Power and the power grid.
Built and maintained by Ferrisburgh Solar Farm, LLC-a new
See SOLAR FARM, page 5
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project developed by Pomerleau Real Estate of Burlington-owner Ernest A. Pomerleau conceived of the big solar array and was the driving force in making the ambitious commercial venture a reality.
"If you think about what we're trying to accomplish here," said Steve Ploesser, vice president of construction management for Pomerleau, "we're trying to take sunlight and absorb as much of it as we can because it's the sunlight that activates the electrons in the silicon cells. The electrons are moving, they jump on to the wires embedded in the silicon and they shoot up to the main line."
The big array, when completed, will not "blind" automobile drivers descending Woodman Hill as some residents have suggested. Instead, the dark panels are designed to absorb as much sunlight as is technologically possible.
"These panels have under three percent reflectivity," Ploesser noted, "so there isn't much sunlight to reflect here."
The alternative energy engineering firm Alteris of Connecticut provided the technical skill to create a solar array that works in cloudy Vermont.
"We went to the professionals," said Ploesser. "They have expertise in building solar arrays."
According to Brian Waxler, executive vice president of Pomerleau, most of the design and construction work is being done by Vermonters.
"The Alteris group we're working with is out of Montpelier," Waxler said. "At all times we try to use Vermont people. We want to keep the money here."
Solar energy and Vermont isn't always an intuitive pairing, but Ploesser said there's plenty of sunlight, even on a cloudy day, to keep the silicon cells generating electricity. Even Vermont's heavy snowfall shouldn't prevent the solar farm from "harvesting" the Sun.
"There a misconception about photovoltaics," Waxler noted. "You don't necessarily need direct sunlight. Germany and Spain are the leaders currently and those nations have less direct sunlight than Vermont. Of course Arizona has a higher efficiency but we can generate a lot of electricity from the Sun here."
According to Ploesser, even Vermont's heavy snowfall won't stop the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm from producing electricity.
"Snow will slide right off the panels," Ploesser said. "It's like a metal roof. We even left room for snow to accumulate. If it gets above four feet, we can get a plow in between the array rows to remove the white stuff."
The array panels are modular, each panel connects to another with wiring that is akin to a home extension chord.
"At the middle of the array set," Ploesser said, "the wiring goes underground through a series of underground conduits to the inverter. There are no batteries involved, no electrical storage here."
To help educate the public about the benefits of solar energy and the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm in particular, Tracey Schoonmaker, Pomerleau development coordinator, is creating an information kiosk at the array site that will explain the marvels of science and engineering behind photovoltaic technology. Schoonmaker said VUHS science students will also be involved with the solar farm project, making it a perfect partnership with an energy learning lab located next door to the high school.
Waxler noted that the solar farm construction work is ahead of schedule thanks to good planning and (mostly) good weather. He hopes the array will start generating electricity by early December.
"Pomerleau is mostly a shopping center developer," Waxler said, "so this is something new for us but we have the attorneys, engineers and builders to accomplish the job. We know how to go about the process. That's why we were the first ones to be able to get the permit in and get it approved."
Right now, there are a lot of folks banking on alternative energy. While there's risk in putting your energy eggs in one basket, there's still a lot of promise.
Perhaps the best endorsement for solar power came from America's brightest inventor, Thomas Edison-"I'd put my money on the Sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."