Meeting began 7:00 pm. Jerry circulated a sign in sheet and read the names of members to date. He reviewed the notes from the last meeting (10/5/15).
Bhima gave an update about the changes happening every day. The 90K Certificate of Public Good (CPG) has been submitted but is not back yet; it should be back in a week. He went over pricing for the 90K project which totals $271,165 and explained each line item. A question was asked if the panels are the rotating kind. He replied ours will be stationary panels. There is no benefit to moving parts because the panels have come down in cost, so it is less expensive to just use more panels. Production is the same for both types, but a stationary system has very little maintenance.
Bhima displayed the list of members with allocation of shares that was submitted to state with CPG.
Bhima explained that net metering cap limits the finite amount of solar allowed on the grid. There are caps because too much solar production could cause issues on the grid, and shift costs to the non-solar customers. GMP cap (106MW) is based on 15% of peak load. In the last three months applications for new installations totaling 65MW were added. Thus the cap has been reached. GMC is applying to the Public Service Board for an increase. 513 kw is the max available at this point. Our 90K is very likely to go through. He believes the GMP petition is unlikely to be approved by PSB any time soon. Thus our 500K application is in limbo now.
Bhima displayed an outline of the updated timing projections: 90K- CPG approval by end of Nov, contracts and down payments due 1st week of Dec, installation begins 1st week Jan, on-line mid Feb. 500K - CPG approval mid Feb, contracts and down payments due end of Feb, land prep begins first week of March, installation first week of April, on line mid-June.
It was stated that the area south of Rutland has very few solar projects at this time. Hopefully, that will increase the chance of our project being approved.
The 90K project is, for the most part, fully committed at this time. We have an additional 350K verbally committed.
The cost savings per watt if we go with 500K is about 10%.
Bhima would lose money if the project does not go forward. The CPG is good for one year.
Jeannie described the development of a local energy coop. After meeting and thinking for a year, they have decided to become a solar coop. They discovered Co-op Power in W. Hatfield, MA and visited them. It is a large organization that has done a lot of different projects. Coop Power wants to set up three solar projects in Vermont. One goal was to bring lower income people in.
Isaac Baker, Lynn Benander and River Strong from Coop Power gave a presentation. They have been sharing expertise and are glad to partner with other groups who want to join. They are here to talk about the 90K and the 500K systems. Isaac will talk about the 500K project. Co-op Power’s role would be to help with the promotion and organization. They have developed the infrastructure for billing and other tasks to run the LLC. Membership gives access to other communities who are doing the same kind of projects. One of their goals is making solar more accessible to lower income people by making federal tax incentives more equitable. They have developed a model of bringing in tax partners who are local investors who get the tax benefits (some of which are not available to homeowners). This brings down the installation cost for the members. The members do not get the tax credit, but cost of the panels is lower, so it balances out. After five years, ownership comes back to the original owner group. Selling the Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s) would be a project option. We can retire the REC’s. A melded system was suggested to allow the original members tax credits. That would make it more complicated and more expensive. The numbers come out about the same in the end. Lynn explained how we would become a part of the network and Co-op Power would support us. They would help manage the LLC. Co-op Power membership would be built into the initial cost. (We would each pay a joining fee, half is equity and 25% goes to Co-op Power and 25% stays in community.)
River asked what is important to us. Responses were: to provide a model of community solar in Vermont, to keep environmental benefits at home, to reach the state goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050.
The Coop Power model would not be very different from what we have been discussing. Additional expenses may come up with our LCC as is, but with Co-op Power all costs would be up front. The question was asked if Co-op Power would provide full financial projections. They will if we sign a letter of intent. Lynn feels that the 90K project would probably work fine on our own, but the 500 K project would be beneficial for us. More people would be able to participate by bringing initial cost down, working with lenders to help low income people qualify, and bringing in organizations such as BROC to provide grants. Value over time would encourage businesses to stay involved. We could also offer lower cost electricity to individuals.
Co-op Power would be happy to help us as advisors in the 90K. Jerry asked if they would send financials. Lynn would prefer Isaac not spend a lot of time without a commitment from us. The financials really depend on a conversation about the many decisions we would have to make. They are registered as a coop in Vermont. They have been successful in drawing in low income people (40% have income below $30,000). They will send us a model for a letter of intent.
Lynn suggested we need a strategy and a timeline about when we are going decide if we will go ahead with the 90K or wait for word on the 500K.
It was asked if Co-op Power has lost members or had bad experiences. Lynn said that there is one cooperate structure with a board of directors. There have been disagreements, but there has never been a schism. They will send info to Jerry about other groups for us to contact. Lynn suggested we do some research to see what value they have to offer. http://www.cooppower.coop
After a short break and the Co-op Power representatives left, Bruce took over as facilitator.
He asked how we proceed from here. The question was raised if we actually have people who could do the jobs necessary. He asked if anyone here would be willing to be an officer. Susan said she would be willing to be treasurer. Individuals would do their own taxes. Chuck said paperwork is not onerous. Al advocates we look into Co-op Power. Tim agrees.
It was suggested we need a drop-dead date (when we abandon 500K project and go with 90K). Steve moved to set drop-dead date as March 1st. Bruce asked if anyone wants to go ahead with 90K right now. No one does. Chuck seconded Steve’s motion and added sending a letter of intent to Co-op Power contingent on 500k approval. If the 500K system is approved, how many people are leaning towards going with Coop Power? Most raised hands.
Motion: We will meet no later than March 1, 2016 to decide to proceed with 90K system or not. Jane seconds. Unanimously approved. At that meeting, if we did decide to drop the 90K and 500K projects, we would need to discuss how to compensate Bhima.
Motion: We will give Co-op Power a letter of intent to work with them conditional upon state approval of 500K project and our approval of their proposal. Moved by Chuck Seconded by Marc. Unanimously approved.
It was decided to empower a committee to investigate and work with Co-op Power. Al, Susan, Jeannie, Kiaran, Forest, and Chuck offered to be on the committee. There were no objections to non-members being included. The committee is charged with: meeting with Co-op Power, exchanging information and investigating the options, considering the importance of keeping REC’s retired, communicating discussions with members,
collecting feedback from members, and being part of process of developing and communicating proposal to membership.
Bhima was asked to and will give us information about the costs of his work for our consideration about reimbursement.
Meeting adjourned 10:00 pm.