P/sunny
72°
P/sunny
Hi 71° | Lo 47°

Power Line Boosts Hopes for Strafford Solar Array

Strafford — The Environmental Protection Agency will review its cleanup of the Elizabeth Mine, one of almost 30 so-called Superfund sites in New England whose cleanup is up for review this year.

Superfund site cleanups, which involve remediation of areas the federal government has designated as containing hazardous waste, are subject to a standard review every five years until they are removed from the list, said Emily Zimmerman, a community involvement coordinator with the EPA. Cleanup at the old Elizabeth Mine began in 2009, triggering the quinquennial review this year.

Meanwhile, a group of Upper Valley residents are continuing a slow-but-steady push for a 5 megawatt solar array on the mine’s 1,400 acres. The array would be about twice the size as one at an industrial park in Sharon and generate enough power for 1,000 Vermont homes, according to a December 2013 memo from the Strafford Energy Committee.

The preliminary plan laid out by the committee envisions the privately owned land being sold to the Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation, a public entity, and leased to private investors, who would own the solar project.

Green Mountain Power will upgrade a single-phase power line into a three-phase power line from Sharon into South Strafford village by 2016, said spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure.

Dori Wolfe, former chairwoman of the Strafford Energy Committee, said a line of that capacity is required to transmit solar power onto the grid.

“The good news that I have heard is that the three-phase line in fact is scheduled to be brought over the hill from Sharon ... which is just great news because that means we can just start really being serious about the next steps,” Wolfe said. “Things are progressing.”

Wolfe resigned last month after serving about 10 years on the committee in order to avert potential conflict of interest problems as her company, Wolfe Energy, would likely pursue a role in the project, she said.

Schnure said the plan to upgrade the line was in the works before the solar project was proposed, and if there are any additional requirements directly related to the solar development, such as a line extension or protective equipment, the developer would pay for them.

Part of the appeal of the site, as described in the committee memo, is its limited suitability for other purposes because of its Superfund designation, calling it the “most appropriate site for a large solar array in the state” and noting that none of the existing array sites in Vermont occupy “contaminated, underutilized or otherwise undevelopable property.”

Mining operations ceased in 1958, and the former copper mine was declared a Superfund site in 2001. The EPA started cleaning the property two years later after officials discovered sulfuric acid leaking into the West Branch of the Ompompanoosuc River and Copperas Brook.

Zimmerman, of the EPA, said in an email that the upcoming review will be to “make sure the cleanup actions that have been implemented are protective of public health and the environment.

“The review will also evaluate whether there are any new circumstances that would require additional cleanup actions,” she said.

Strafford resident John Freitag, a former selectman who has closely followed and sometimes criticized the EPA’s cleanup at the mine, said he hopes the EPA will review the overall environmental impact caused by cleaning up a specific problem.

“The problem is you can’t do one thing to the environment without affecting other things, and this project had over 20,000 loads of 10-wheel dump trucks, a huge carbon footprint that no one kept track of,” among other impacts, he said.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.