St. Albans Air Force Station Solar Project
St. Albans, Vt. | 500 kW
The 2023 Community Solar Project of the Year, as voted on by Solar Builder readers, is the St. Albans Air Force Station Solar Project in St. Albans, Vt.
Despite a host of logistical and contaminated property challenges, Green Lantern Solar was able to complete the construction of a 500 kW community solar project on a complicated brownfield site located on a former Air Force. The system comprises a 1,700-panel ground-mount system that generates 892,000 kWh of clean energy annually.
Developer: Green Lantern Solar
EPC/Installer: Green Lantern Construction
Inverters: CPS America
Mounting: APA Solar Racking
Initially set to begin construction in March 2021, the BCAF GLC Solar project experienced a series of challenges due to pandemic-related delays, supply chain and policy uncertainties surrounding the AD/CVD tariff investigation. Delays ultimately caused the CPG commissioning date to be extended by two years, and Green Lantern Solar took on constructing the system in time to meet the new deadline. This meant that its EPC team and other local contractors had to labor through the harsh Vermont winter.
Development of the BCAF project was further complicated by the presence of the military-related brownfield and its contaminants, which required the implementation of a DEC-approved soil management plan. Vegetative management had to be conducted by hand via chainsaw to avoid mechanized equipment in sensitive areas. In addition, the project site, located on top of a hill overlooking St. Albans, was composed mainly of ledge, requiring many of the racking posts and fence components to be drilled through rock. Portions of the site also had to be ballasted to prevent impacting the contaminated portion of the site.
Despite these obstacles, the project met its March 2023 commissioning date and now provides clean energy savings to numerous locals. It also helps the state of Vermont meet its Renewable Energy Standard of achieving 75% renewable energy by 2032.
Green Lantern self-financed the project through the Vermont Economic Development Authority, according to David Carpenter, general counsel and director of development at Green Lantern Solar.
“We retained long-term ownership of the project, which we have done with about 30 of the 120-some odd projects we’ve done, and we’re now exploring ways to transfer the tax credits under the new provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act,” Carpenter says.
Benefiting the community
Now that the project is in operation, BCAF GLC Solar community solar system is serving several customers.
“Because it is part of the net metering program in Vermont, there are several offtakers who are benefiting from the net metering credits,” Carpenter says. “There are four Vermont farms that are currently offtakers on this array, and they’re getting the discount on their electric bills.”
In addition, the landowner, municipality, and state are benefiting from the solar array, as well as the local utility company, Green Mountain Power.
“As with every net metering project in Vermont, the landowner is receiving rent payments,” Carpenter says. “And a piece of property that was probably not good for much else has been put into redevelopment. The municipality benefits from the property taxes. The state has its own taxation framework.”
With the two-year delay in commissioning the BCAF GLC solar project stemming from the pandemic, supply chain issues, weather and site contamination, the project team overcame those challenges through patience and planning, says Peter Edlund, VP of operations at Green Lantern.
“We did a lot of planning on the front end,” Edlund says. “The bulk of the construction was from December to the end of February, and we knew going into it that we had some issues with parts. We did long lead items, and we did carry some issues all the way through the build. There were bits and pieces that were late to the game.
“However, because it was winter in Vermont, we jumped on the civil work, and we got the site prep done in December before the ground froze, and then we just worked ourselves through the challenging build site December, January and February.”
Those wintry conditions presented a huge challenge to the project team, Edlund says, adding that there were some days that the wind chill was as much as 20 to 30 degrees below zero.
Although Green Lantern has developed several brownfield sites in Vermont, Carpenter says that the former Air Force site held its own set of obstacles.
“Our development side, and certainly on our EPC side, has a lot of familiarity with the challenges that go along with building sites that aren’t greenfields,” Carpenter says. “One of the appealing things about this site was that it was out of the way.”
The project site was located at the top of a hill with good exposure to the sun, and it sat at the end of a private road where there wouldn’t be many conflicts with traffic or other infrastructure. While the rocky ground conditions and construction during the winter months presented their own set of challenges, a bigger hurdle to clear was the soil condition at the site.
“In terms of the contamination, no brownfield is necessarily like another brownfield,” Carpenter says. “There’s always different challenges depending on the contamination and the amount of contamination that’s there. One of the challenges that Peter and his team had to deal with was the implementation of a soil management plan required by the state for us to do work in the contaminated portion of the site. So, aside from the construction challenges, there were those regulatory challenges as well.”
In addition to the rocky soil, winter weather and regulatory challenges, Edlund says the project team encountered other logistical complications during construction.
“It was a former Air Force base, and there was infrastructure there at the time,” Edlund says. “We encountered concrete, asphalt, wetlands, existing conduits in the ground. There were so many obstacles that we had to deal with going through this site.”
The project team did as much grading as possible and tree clearing, but Edlund says there was no blasting done on the site. However, because of the proliferation of rock face and ledge throughout the area, there was significant drilling.
“Mostly, all we used were APA ground screw foundations, so we drilled quite a bit,” Edlund says. “Probably 80 to 85% of the site was drilled, and we had to use some ballasts on the fencing that surrounded the site in locations where we couldn’t drill into the soils because of the conditions. It was a whole potpourri of techniques to build the site. I think we pulled every tool out of our toolbox to make it work.”