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Schools, Church Get Solar Grants

Sharon — Three schools and one church in Sharon, Strafford and Thetford were among nine community solar projects across Vermont to receive grants from a state fund intended to boost the development of clean energy, the Shumlin administration announced Tuesday.

A total of $442,750 was awarded, with 42 percent of that money going to the projects in the three Upper Valley towns.

“We have more than quadrupled the amount of solar energy in Vermont since I became governor, and I am very pleased to be able to announce Clean Energy Development Fund solar grants to keep our momentum going,” Shumlin said in a press release.

The town of Sharon was awarded $15,000 for a 12-kilowatt solar panel rooftop for Sharon Elementary School. According to Paul Haskell, who serves on Sharon’s Selectboard, the project is in line with the town’s efforts in renewable energy.

“The Selectboard wrote a letter in support of the school because it’s consistent with commitments we’ve made to solar energy,” Haskell said.

“Sharon hosts the largest solar array in Vermont, a 2.8 megawatt solar array,” Haskell said, referring to an already developed private project along Interstate 89.

The United Church of Thetford received a $13,750 grant, also for a solar panel rooftop. Michael Kiess, the church’s moderator, helped the North Thetford church apply for the grant.

“Our ambition is to do the installation in September,” Kiess said.

According to Kiess, Solarize Upper Valley played an instrumental role in helping both Thetford and Strafford receive grants. Solarize is an organization dedicated to making solar photovoltaic energy more accessible to towns and residents in the Upper Valley. Thetford partnered with Strafford to seek bids from solar panel installers.

“Under the Solarize program, we found out that we could put about 15 kilowatts worth of panels on our roof,” Kiess said. “That’s twice as much electricity as we use in a year. We have agreed on a price for the array, gotten the grant which offsets some of the cost, and we are talking to interested parties about sharing some of the energy.”

The Thetford School Board received the largest grant of the nine awards. The Clean Energy Development Fund granted Thetford $125,000 to build a 141-kilowatt array on land next to Thetford Elementary School.

Strafford and the Newton School received a grant of $32,250 to build a 65-kilowatt solar array in a field on Route 132 next to the Newton School. Messages left for officials in Thetford and Strafford were not immediately returned.

“These solar projects are unique in that they all feature community-ownership or local investment, and they offer a model for how communities can come together to foster solar energy development that reduces public sector energy costs,” Darren Springer, deputy commissioner of the Public Service Department, said in a news release.

Lauren Bender can be reached at lbender@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.